The Self-Petition Under VAWA

U.S. immigrants who have been abused by their sponsoring spouse can petition for permanent residency (green card) on their own - even after a divorce.

If you are a foreign-born person in the U.S. applying for a green card, and have been the victim of abuse or extreme cruelty by your U.S. petitioner (or sponsor), you may get some help from the Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA. Specifically, the VAWA may help you to avoid involving your petitioner in your quest for a green card. Below are some questions that VAWA self-petitioners often ask.

To learn more about the steps involved, see Process to Get a Green Card Under VAWA.

How Do I Write a Sworn Affidavit?  

Often times and understandably, people have trouble expressing themselves on paper. But drafting a sworn affidavit describing your situation can be a very useful tool in allowing the immigration official who decides on your application insight into your relationship and the abuse that eventually ensued.

When in doubt, the best way to begin is chronologically, from the beginning of your relationship up to the present.Be sure to include details of the “when” and “how” things occurred, but also include details about how you felt as the relationship changed and why you acted as you did or in some cases why you didn’t act. This may help to explain those periods of “inaction” if the abuse in your case was not well documented.     

Also, keep in mind the purpose of your affidavit. You are trying to establish that:

Not only should you write your own affidavit, but consider having a friend, doctor, social worker, employer, or anyone who can verify the things on the above list provide a sworn affidavit on your behalf.

It helps to describe how the relationship began so as to provide insight into the genuineness of the relationship before the abuse began. Provide details about the types of things you did together, including interactions with each other’s family members and friends as well as ways you celebrated important events.

As you move forward in time, describe when and how the incidents of abuse began and how it made you feel to have someone you loved and trusted change their behavior towards you. Again, it is important to include as much in the way of specific details as possible. Saying, "I was abused" is not nearly as convincing as saying, for example, "My husband kicked me in the stomach as soon as he found out I was pregnant." 

Finally, do not be afraid to describe yourself and they type of person you are.  Remember that you must also establish good moral character so it is extremely helpful to have others write letters and affidavits on your behalf.

Here is some sample language that can help get you started when writing a sworn statement. 

Then continue the story chronologically. 

Do Affidavits Need to Be Notarized? 

It is not absolutely necessary that affidavits, declarations, or letters written by you or on your behalf be notarized or for that matter in any particular form. (Notarized means taken to a notary public who will check the photo identification of the person signing, and then stamp the document to confirm it was really created by that person. That prevents someone from, for example, writing a fake letter from their supposed neighbor.)

But a document can be easily viewed as authentic without a notary stamp. For example, a signed letter from your long-time minister written on official church letterhead would probably serve as good evidence. 

It's also important to realize -- as the immigration officials will -- that a notarization cannot verify the truthfulness of the contents written within the document. The signer is simply attesting under penalty of perjury that what they are writing in the document is true and accurate, much like one would do in a court of law.

But, it is still advisable to have signed documents notarized as part of your application packet if for no other reason than to clarify that the authors of the documents are who they say they are.   

Do I Have to Stay Married to the U.S. Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident to Qualify for VAWA?  

Even where the marriage has already ended in divorce, you may still qualify under VAWA so long as the divorce was related to the abuse or domestic violence. Keep in mind, however, that you must file within two years of the divorce to remain eligible.  

What If My Abuser Was a Lawful Permanent Resident But Lost That Status?

Even where a lawful permanent resident (LPR) no longer has green card status, you may still qualify under VAWA so long as the loss of status was a result of domestic violence. However, you must file within two years of the loss of status to remain VAWA-eligible.  

Applying for immigration benefits under VAWA can be tricky, especially if you left your home with few of your personal documents. Your best bet is to hire an experienced immigration attorney.

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