There are two steps to applying for a green card on your own, without relying on your abusive spouse or parent, as allowed under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). First, you must file Form I-360 and supporting evidence with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The next step is to file an application for a U.S. green card (lawful permanent residence), using Form I-485 and supporting documents.
If you are the spouse of a U.S. citizen, you can combine these steps into one, and file the I-360 and the I-485 together, or "concurrently." If your U.S. spouse is a lawful permanent resident (a green card holder), then you are not an immediate relative, and your only choice is to file the Form I-360 first, wait for approval, wait for your Priority Date to become current, and then file the I-485 application.
This article will help guide you through the first step of the application process and direct you to resources for the next steps.
If you have any questions about your eligibility for VAWA, see Green Card Under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA): Who Is Eligible.
NOTE: When looking for help as a victim of abuse, remember to consider how private your computer, Internet, and phone use are. Consider whether there's anything you can and should do to prevent someone else from learning that you’re doing research or seeking help. Some victims, for instance, might use the same computer or device as the abuser, or might have a phone plan that allows the abuser to see the calls they make and receive. Other kinds of technology, like home security cameras and GPS in phones and cars, can also allow for monitoring by the abuser.
In order to apply for a green card under VAWA, you must first fill out USCIS Form I-360. You will also need to send documentary evidence that you meet all of the eligibility requirements. The usual filing fee is not required for self-petitioning abused spouses, parents, and children.
Form I-360 is used for several different types of applications, which means you will not need to fill out the entire form. Skip the portions that say: “Part 5. Complete Only If Filing for an Amerasian;” “Part 6. Complete Only If Filing for a Special Immigrant Juvenile Court Dependent;” and “Part 8. Complete Only If Filing a Special Immigrant Religious Worker Petition.” Don’t forget to fill out Part 7 and Part 9. In addition, don’t forget to sign the application in Part 10. If someone helped you fill out this form, that person should fill out Part 11.
Most of Form I-360 is pretty straightforward; however, there are a few things to consider. First, Form I-360 allows you to use another person’s address in Part 1 instead of your own, in case you are still living with an abusive person who may get angry and punish you for filing this form. This is the address where all USCIS notices will be sent, so be sure that you can receive mail at this address in the future. If you want to use your own address, you can leave Part 1 blank and proceed to Part 2.
Self-petitioning spouses and children should check either box “i” or box “j” in Part 2. Parts 3 and 4 ask you for information about yourself. Part 7A asks for information about the abuser and Part 7B asks for more information about your relationship with the abuser. Be sure to list all children in Part 9—yours, and if you are filing as the spouse of an abuser, the abuser's children also (whether they're also yours or not).
In addition to the form, you will need to include evidence that you meet all the requirements of VAWA. This evidence should include such items as:
It is also helpful to include a cover letter on top of the application describing how you meet each requirement and the evidence you have submitted to prove it.
The I-360 page of the USCIS website contains complete submission instructions—but there's one very important thing you need to figure out before you send it in. Are you the immediate relative of your abuser (i.e., the spouse, parent, or minor, unmarried child of a U.S. citizen), or do you have a current priority date (based on a previously filed I-130)?
If so, you can save a lot of time by filing your I-360 at the same time as your green card application (described below). That way, you don't have to wait for USCIS approval of the I-360 before moving forward with your green card application. Otherwise—for example, if you're the spouse or child or a U.S. permanent resident and he or she has never submitted a visa petition on your behalf—you will need to submit your Form I-360 to USCIS, wait for approval, and then file your green card application.
After USCIS receives your I-360 petition, it will send a receipt notice to the address you have provided on the form. USCIS may then review the self-petition to see whether it can be approved if everything you stated within is true. This is called a “prima facie determination.” If USCIS decides that your self-petition can be approved if it is true, it will send you a “Prima Facie Approval” letter. This does not mean you are granted anything yet. It does, however, mean that you can qualify for some types of public assistance. After sending you this Prima Facie Approval letter, USCIS will take more time to look carefully at your self-petition.
If USCIS needs more evidence to determine whether it should approve your I-360, it will send you a letter asking for it. You will have 60 days to give USCIS the new evidence or an explanation as to why you cannot do so.
If USCIS does not believe you qualify as an abused spouse, parent, or child, it may send you a “Notice of Intent to Deny.” This will state the reasons why USCIS believes you do not qualify, and it will give you additional time to send evidence that will change its mind. If you do not do so, USCIS will deny the self-petition. USCIS can also deny your I-360 without sending you a Notice of Intent to Deny.
If USCIS believes it has enough evidence showing that you are an abused spouse, parent, or child, it will send you an approval letter.
After USCIS approves your I-360, you can begin to prepare your application to adjust your status (receive a green card). The main form for this is USCIS Form I-485. If the abuser is a U.S. citizen, then you are eligible to apply as soon as your I-360 has been approved.
If the abuser is a permanent resident (green card holder), however, you will have to wait for a visa to become available in order to apply for your green card. However, with an approved I-360, you can remain lawfully in the U.S. and can apply for work authorization while you wait. Your place on the waiting list is based on your "priority date," which is the date that your I-360 was approved. However, if the abuser previously filed an I-130 visa petition for you, you can use that priority date instead.
See Adjustment of Status Procedures for more information on this final stage of the green card application process. Because this process is complex, however, you'd be well advised to get a full analysis of your situation from an experienced immigration attorney, who can also help you prepare the paperwork and monitor your application as it makes its way through the system.