Chicago Law Office of Christine Contreras

How to File a Self-Petition as a Victim of Domestic Violence


Cases of domestic violence in which one of the participants owes their residency to the abusive party are very hard to identify and rectify, for obvious reasons. Without recourse, victims usually do not address the issue and are forced to continue living in an abusive household until things escalate even further, or until they decide that residency in the United States is not worth continuing to live in an abusive environment. Thankfully, the ability to self-petition for residency under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) enables victims of abuse to escape their environments without the fear of having to leave the United States.

At the origin of this problem is that, in order to prevent marriage fraud, federal immigration law requires applicants for marriage-based permanent residency to reside with their spouse for two years under conditional circumstances before permanent resident status is granted. Often, victims of domestic abuse feel the they can stick it out during this period to secure their residency, but no one should have to deal with abuse for that long just to be able to remain in the United States.

In 1990, the Immigration Reform Act created a “battered spouse waiver” that removes this conditional status and the dependence on the other spouse. If the spouse can provide proof of the abuse, the two year condition is lifted and he or she can apply for temporary status under the waiver. When the abused party is allowed to secure this residency in his or her own name, he or she is free to leave the abuser without any concerns to their legal status in the country.

To qualify under VAWA, the applicant needs to provide proof of the following:

  • A qualifying spousal relationship (married to a citizen or permanent resident abuser)
  • That you or your child have suffered battery/extreme cruelty by your spouse
  • That you entered into the marriage in good faith
  • That your primary residence was with your spouse
  • That you are a person of good moral character

It is worth it to note that the self-petition itself does not give permanent legal status to the applicant. Instead, it grants temporary rights such as:

  • Work authorization
  • Deferred action
  • Approved immigration petition

These rights allow the party to continue living in the United States and be independent of the abuser. However, the party is still object to the typical restrictions and delays that may be a part of the permanent residency application process.

When it comes to securing permanent residency, immediate family of United States citizens, such as spouses and children, can apply and receive a green card without any delays. Others, such as spouses and children of lawful permanent residents fall into the “family preference system,” and there is no priority given to them over conventional applicants. So, if there are backlogs due to the annual green card quotas, victims of abuse have to wait their turn, but their temporary status covers them in the meantime.

Thankfully, there is no limit on the number of VAWA self-petitions that can be made in any year, allowing the government to move these applications through fairly quickly.

If you find yourself in this situation or know someone who could benefit from the information above, get in touch with me right away. No one should have to put up with abuse just for the right to remain in the United States. A qualified immigration attorney can help with the filing of the I-360 Self-Petition and help you obtain legal status.