Green card holders who were approved based on an I-360 VAWA self-petition can, in some cases, apply for U.S. citizenship (naturalization) after three years instead of the usual five.
If you are a VAWA self-petitioner, you may take advantage of this three-year rule if you were the abused spouse or child of a U.S. citizen and meet the additional criteria described below.
If, however, you submitted an I-360 self-petition based on your relationship to an LPR, then you must wait the normal five years as a green card holder before applying for naturalization, unless your abusive spouse or parent naturalizes.
Naturalization Eligibility for VAWA Self-Petitioning Spouses of U.S. Citizens
If you are a battered spouse of a U.S. citizen who was granted an I-360 on that basis and you have been an LPR for three years, you can apply for U.S. citizenship now, without having to show that you are still residing with the citizen spouse. In addition, it does not matter if you are still married to the citizen or divorced.
You can also apply after three years as an LPR if your abusive spouse has died.
These are important benefits, because while the non-VAWA spouses of U.S. citizens can also apply for naturalization after three years with a green card, they must prove that their spouse is still alive and they are still married to and living with the U.S. citizen.
Naturalization Eligibility for VAWA Self-Petitioning Children of U.S. Citizens
If you received your green card as the abused child of a U.S. citizen (with an approved I-360), you can apply for naturalization after three years as an LPR. You can apply even if the abusive parent is no longer a U.S. citizen or has died. Furthermore, when you apply for naturalization under these circumstances, you no longer need to meet the definition of a child, so it’s okay if you are now over 21 and married. However, like all naturalization applicants, you do have to be over 18 years old.
Naturalization Eligibility for VAWA Self-Petitioning Spouses and Children of LPRs Who Naturalize
If you have an approved I-360 based on being the spouse or child of an abusive LPR, and that LPR naturalizes, then you may also be able to take advantage of the three-year rule. You will need to wait to apply for U.S. citizenship until not only have you spent three years as a VAWA green card holder, but your abusive spouse or parent has been a U.S. citizen for three years as well.
Otherwise, the same rules mentioned above apply, as though you had obtained your VAWA green-card approval based on your relationship to a U.S. citizen. For example, it does not matter whether your marriage is still ongoing at the time you apply for naturalization.
Tips on Applying and Completing Form N-400
The instructions and eligibility guidelines for naturalization on the government website www.uscis.gov do not clearly explain that VAWA self-petitioning spouses and children of abusive U.S. citizens can apply for naturalization after three years as LPRs. This can be confusing for applicants, and lead to confusion by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) itself, which sometimes forgets that this ground of eligibility exists.
Moreover, the naturalization application Form N-400 does not have a specific box to check to establish eligibility on this basis. Therefore, when completing USCIS Form N-400, on page 1, PART 2, Information About Your Eligibility, check box D for “other.” As an explanation, enter “I.N.A Section 319(a)” and state that you are applying after three years because you obtained your green card based on an approved I-360 VAWA self-petition for being the abused spouse or child of a U.S. citizen, or of an LPR who naturalized over three years ago.
In addition, to make extra sure that USCIS understands why you are eligible to naturalize after only three years, you could attach the USCIS memoranda that lay out this issue, including “Instructions Regarding the Expanded Meaning of Section 319(a)” and “Clarification of Classes of Applicants Eligible for Naturalization under Section 319(a) . . . .“
If you are applying for naturalization after three years as a VAWA green card holder, you will still have to meet the other requirements for naturalization. For example, you will have to pass the civics and English tests and you will have to meet the physical presence requirements.