WomensLaw serves and supports all survivors, no matter their sex or gender.

Legal Information: Federal


View all
August 15, 2022

What type of abuse can qualify me for a self-petition?

You must prove that you were the victim of “battery or extreme cruelty.” This is the phrase that is written in VAWA and it covers most forms of domestic abuse. The law defines battery or extreme cruelty as including, but not limited to:

  • being the victim of any act or threatened act of violence, including any forceful detention, which results or threatens to result in physical or mental injury;
  • psychological or sexual abuse or exploitation, including rape, molestation, incest, or forced prostitution; and
  • other abusive actions, including acts that, in and of themselves, may not initially appear violent but that are a part of an overall pattern of violence.1 

You should work with your domestic violence counselor to explain, in detail, all the kinds of abuse you suffered. For example, abusive acts that are not physical, such as threats to get you deported if you were to report the abuse to law enforcement could be included. If you are/were married to the abuser, you should also explain any abuse that your children suffered.

1 8 CFR § 204.2(c)(1)(vi)

What other requirements related to the abuse must I prove?

A few other requirements related to the abuse that you must meet are:

  1. If the abuser is/was your spouse, at least some of the abuse to you or your children must have happened while you were married.1Note: It is OK if some of the abuse took place before you were married, as long as there is a pattern of abuse that continued during your marriage.
    • If you do not currently live in the United States, at least some of the abuse must have taken place in the US. Note: If you were only abused abroad, then you must show that your abusive spouse, parent, or child was an employee of the US government or a member of the US the military at the time.2
    • If you currently live in the United States, then it does not matter where the abuse occurred.
  2. You must have lived with the abuser in the same home at some point.3Note: If you only lived together before you came to the US, you should still be able to file a VAWA self-petition but it’s important to work with a knowledgeable lawyer you because this is one of the reasons that USCIS could deny your case.

1 INA § 204(a)(1)(A)(iii)(I)(bb), (a)(1)(B)(ii)(I)(bb); 8 CFR § 204.2(c)(1)(vi)
2 INA § 204(a)(1)(A)(v), (a)(1)(B)(iv); See also USCIS Policy Memorandum, “Eligibility to Self-Petition as a Battered or Abused Parent of a U.S. Citizen; Revisions to Adjudicator’s Field Manual (AFM) Chapter 21.15 (AFM Update AD 06-32),” PM-602-0046, August 30, 2011.
3 INA § 204(a)(1)(A)(iii)(II)(dd), (a)(1)(B)(ii)(II)(dd)