When you begin the process of filing for U.S. residence under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), you must not only fill out and submit a self-petition on Form I-360 to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), but also submit evidence showing that you meet the VAWA eligibility requirements and qualify for relief.
This article will let you know what is required and the types of evidence you can use to support your case. (See Green Card Under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA): Who Is Eligible to review the basics.)
Safety and Privacy Considerations for Victims
Be sure to consider the privacy of your computer, smartphone, or tablet when seeking help online or over the phone. Some victims might use the same device, network, or phone plan as the abuser, allowing the abuser to see the victim's search or call history or otherwise track their activity. Many smart devices contain cameras or GPS tracking that can be used to locate and monitor your whereabouts. An abuser can even slip a small tracking device in your car, bag, pocket, or other belongings without your knowledge. If you're concerned about your privacy or safety, several organizations provide assistance and resources, including National Domestic Violence Hotline and RAINN. You can also check out our Resources for Victims of Crime.
In addition to Form I-360, called the "Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant," you will need to include evidence that you meet all the requirements of VAWA. At the very least, this evidence should include:
Each of these is discussed more fully below. It is also helpful to include a cover letter on top of the package that describes the evidence you have submitted.
The first piece of evidence to submit is a detailed declaration or sworn statement describing your relationship with the U.S. citizen or LPR abuser and other details of your eligibility for VAWA. This should begin with the statement "I swear under penalty of perjury that the following is true and correct to the best of my knowledge."
The declaration should include details about how you met the abuser and how your relationship developed. It should discuss when you first met, how your relationship developed, and why you married the abuser. It should also discuss the types of abuse you suffered and when each instance of abuse occurred. It is best to include as many details, including dates, as possible.
Be sure to also discuss things you do that show you are a good person. In order to qualify under VAWA, you need to show that you are a person who has "good moral character." For instance, if you volunteer, regularly go to church, temple, or mosque, support a family, or take part in other community activities, describing these will help show your good moral character.
Finally, your declaration should include any explanations for why you cannot various submit other forms of evidence (if that's the case), as described below.
You must also submit evidence that you have been a good person for at least the last three years.
Start with police clearance records from any place you have lived for at least six months during the past three years. You can get these by contacting or going to the police station in each place you lived and asking for it. Tell them it is for immigration purposes. These clearances help to show that you are a person of good moral character and also prove that you have not been convicted of a serious crime that might bar you from qualifying under VAWA.
If you have committed a crime, definitely see an attorney for help. You might still be able to obtain a VAWA green card if you can show that there was "a causal and logical relationship" between your abuse and the commission of the crime. (This standard came from a court case called Da Silva v. Attorney General, in which the foreign spouse, who'd been physically and emotionally abused, went into a rage and assaulted the mistress of her abusive husband.)
In addition to the police clearance records, you can submit signed declarations from friends and family members that talk about things you do that show you are a good person. You don't have to be better than most people; USCIS considers "the standards of the average citizen in the community." (See 8 C.F.R. §§ 204.2(c)(1)(vii).)
In order to prove that you are really who you claim to be, you must submit a copy of your birth certificate and/or your passport.
If the abuser is a U.S. citizen, your first choice is to submit a copy of the abuser's birth certificate, U.S. passport, or certificate of naturalization. Depending on where you live, you might be able to obtain a copy of the abuser's birth certificate through the County Recorder where the abuser was born. Or, if the abuser has already filed a petition (USCIS Form I-130) for you, submit a copy of it and/or the subsequent receipt or approval notice from USCIS as evidence of U.S. immigration status.
If the abuser is a green card holder, you can submit a copy of the green card, an I-130 receipt and/or approval notice from USCIS, or any other immigration document that refers to their immigration status.
If you do not have any of these documents, you can file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with USCIS. The agency will send you a copy of your immigration file, which might contain some information about your spouse.
If all else fails, you can submit written, signed declarations from friends and family who know of the abuser's immigration status as a citizen or permanent resident. In addition, you can ask that USCIS search its internal records to verify the
abuser's immigration status, by including a sworn statement explaining why you can't provide documents proving the abuser's immigration status (USCIS understands that abusers commonly hide such documents, as part of the abuse; if that was the case with you, definitely describe that). You'll need to provide as much identifying information about the abuser as you can, to aid USCIS's search, such as name (including alternate names or aliases), birth date, birthplace, Social Security number, A-number (for a green card holder), parents' names, and date and place of naturalization (if any.)
You must also submit proof of your relationship to the abuser. If the abuser is your spouse, submit a copy of your marriage certificate. If you were previously married, do your best to submit evidence that the marriage (or marriages) were legally
terminated (such as by death, divorce, or annulment) before you married the abuser. (If submitting such evidence is impossible, explain the reasons to USCIS in a sworn statement.)
If the abuser was previously married, and you have recently discovered that the marriage wasn't terminated before your marriage to the abuser, this gets more complicated. Nevertheless, it is possible to qualify for VAWA as what's called an "intending spouse." You would need to provide USCIS with evidence showing that you truly believed you were legally marrying an unmarried U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, that you took part in an actual marriage ceremony, that the intended marriage was otherwise bona fide (the real thing) and that the only reason it turned out to have been invalid was the abuser's other, preexisting marriage (unknown to you at the time).
If the abuser is your parent, submit a copy of your birth certificate.
In addition, if the abuser is your spouse, you must submit documents to show that you entered the relationship in good faith: in other words, that the marriage was not a sham or fraud to get you a green card. Birth certificates of children, photographs of the two of you together, and letters or emails between you and the abuser are all good evidence.
In addition, you can submit evidence that you shared a bank account, insurance, a lease or property ownership, and so on. Even shared credit cards and phone accounts can be helpful. Declarations from family members and friends that discuss your relationship can also be helpful to complete the picture.
In order to qualify under VAWA, you must also show that you currently live with or have, in the past, lived with the U.S. abuser. It's okay if you weren't married when you lived together, or if you lived together outside the United States. (See USCIS's Policy Alert of February 10, 2022, PA-2022-09, for details.)
Proving current or past residence together can be done by submitting copies of things like leases that list both of your names, utility or phone bills that have both of your names, or school records of your children that list both of you as parents. Tax returns and pay stubs can also be used.
Basically, any documents that list both your name and the abuser's name at the same address can be helpful. If you cannot get many of these documents, you can also have friends and family members write declarations discussing the fact that you lived with the abuser.
It is crucial that you provide as much evidence as possible showing that you have suffered abuse, whether physical or emotional. Some of the best evidence of this would be police reports or restraining orders against the abuser. If the abuser was arrested or convicted of physically abusing you, you can submit court records discussing this. If you saw a doctor because of abuse, submit copies of your medical records. Similarly, if you have seen a counselor or have gone to a domestic violence shelter, you can submit evidence of that as well.
Remember, you do not have to show physical abuse in order to qualify under VAWA. Emotional or psychological abuse may be enough, or "extreme cruelty." If you have seen a psychologist or have been prescribed medication by a doctor due to the abuse, submit evidence of this as well.
As always, if you have difficulty obtaining this type of evidence, you can submit declarations from family members and friends who have witnessed the abuse you suffered, or to whom you have spoken about the abuse.
Preparing a compelling, well-organized set of evidence to support your VAWA self-petition can be time-consuming and challenging. Hiring an attorney to help with this task can be well worth your while.