Many abused spouses and children are afraid to report abuse to the authorities. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was enacted by Congress to allow battered spouses or children to apply for immigration benefits. VAWA allows them to self-petition for lawful permanent residency. Certain sections of VAWA allow abused immigrants to file for benefits without the abuser’s knowledge or assistance.

Who May Self-Petition?

To self-petition, you must fall under one of these categories:

  • Spouse – If you are a battered spouse married to a citizen or permanent resident, you may self-petition.
  • Parent – If your child has been abused by your spouse, you may self-petition and include your children as derivative beneficiaries.
  • Child – If you are a battered child (under 21 and unmarried), you may self-petition.

How Do I Apply for Immigration Benefits?

If you are a battered spouse or child who would like to self-petition, complete and file Form I-360. Make sure you include all the documentation needed to support your position. File your self-petition with the Vermont Service Center and mail it by certified return receipt mail. Do not send your I-360 to another USCIS office or it will be delayed. Keep copies of everything that you send.

What Happens after I Self-Petition?

There are many steps in the process of receiving your immigration benefits:

  • Prima facie determination – If you can establish a good case, you will be considered a "qualified alien" and will be eligible for public benefits. This requires that you have followed all the requirements above and have provided enough evidence. After receiving a Notice of Prima Facie Determination, you may receive public benefits for 150 days.
  • Approval of your self-petition – If your self-petition is approved, you may be placed in deferred action (if you have no legal immigration status). This means that Immigration will not begin deportation proceedings against you.
  • Employment authorization – If you are placed in deferred action, you will also be eligible for an Employment Authorization Card.
  • Adjustment to permanent resident status – If you are an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen, you may file to register permanent residence with your local USCIS office. Check with your local office for any restrictions for your situation.

Do I Need an Experienced Immigration Law Attorney?

An experienced immigration lawyer would be able to help you navigate through the various immigration laws and agencies concerning your case. A lawyer would be able to help you through the process of applying for and providing evidence for your petition.