What will I need in order to apply for a VAWA self-petition?
The first step is to get a lawyer, if possible, with experience doing VAWA self-petitions. Next, you will fill out, with the attorney’s help, a Form I-360. This is a form people use to apply for many different kinds of status, so it can be very confusing. There are also several other forms you must file, which your attorney will know.
You will need to write a personal statement, which can be very helpful in winning your case. It is the only opportunity that you have to tell your story in your own words and for USCIS to hear your “voice.” An attorney or advocate can help you organize your story but your personal statement should be in your own words. You can also use your statement to explain how you meet the other requirements for a VAWA self-petition, especially if you don’t have a lot of other documents to support your case.
You may also need to work with others, such as a domestic violence advocate, a mental health counselor, and other professionals who can write “corroborating” statements, which back up your claims of abuse.1Corroborating statements can describe the facts of the abuse, as you told them to the advocate or counselor, and explain how those facts are domestic violence in your case. The advocate can explain, for instance, the details of any economic control, humiliation, and isolation you experienced and how those are forms of power and control commonly used by abusers. Corroborating statements can be very helpful, especially for when the abuse was not physical or there are no police reports, protection orders, or medical reports. An advocate who works with you can also help you find and collect other evidence that supports your case. Note: There may be things that the abuser did that are just too hard for you or your children to write down in your personal statement. If you told those things to your advocate or counselor, s/he can discuss those facts in his/her corroborating statement and explain what kind of domestic abuse it was, such as marital rape, for instance. It is OK for you to say it’s too hard for you to describe certain incidents of abuse as long as someone else, like your counselor, can describe it in detail for you, based on what you told him/her.
The law says that you can provide “any credible evidence” for your case,2 but USCIS may think some kinds of evidence are more believable (“credible”) than others. Evidence besides your own statement that may support your case (“corroboration”) includes anything from medical, legal, or social service systems that supports your own story and shows you meet the requirements. USCIS likes evidence from other “systems” because those systems are seen as having “experts.” USCIS will, however, look at evidence from other sources too, especially if you and your lawyer explain why you couldn’t get “systems” evidence and why this source is believable, trustworthy, and knowledgeable. For some practice pointers on how your lawyer can help you send the best evidence you can to USCIS, go to ASISTA’s website.
1 See 8 CFR sec. 204.2 (c)(2)(i)
2 8 USC 1154(a)(1)(J); INA sec 204(a)(1)(J)