How to File an I-360 "Special Immigrant" or VAWA Green Card Petition

Most people filing Form I-360 will do so as a "self-petition," while in a few cases, a sponsoring organization files the petition.

By , J.D.

The I-360 petition is one that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) provides for foreign nationals wishing to begin the green card (lawful permanent residence) application process either:

  • within a "special immigrant visa" category
  • as a widow(er) of a U.S. citizen, or a battered/abused spouse, parent, or child of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident applying under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), or
  • as an Amerasian child of a U.S. military member.

We'll discuss both possibilities here. Most people filing Form I-360 will do so as a "self-petition," while in a few cases, a sponsoring organization files the petition on their behalf.

Who Qualifies as a Special Immigrant?

Despite the generic-sounding name, special immigrants are a highly varied, almost random selection of visa-eligible people found in U.S. immigration law (8 U.S.C. §1101(a)(27)) under category EB-4. It includes:

  • workers for recognized religious organizations
  • foreign medical graduates who have lived in the United States for a long time
  • longtime U.S. government employees
  • certain retired officers of employees of international organizations who lived in the U.S. a long time
  • juveniles dependent on U.S. courts
  • people who served honorably, on active U.S. military duty, for 12 years or more after October 15, 1978
  • Panama Canal Treaty employees
  • NATO civilian employees, and
  • people coming to work in the U.S. as broadcasters for the International Broadcasting Bureau.
  • Afghani or Iraqi nationals who supported the U.S. Armed Forces as a translator
  • Iraqi nationals who worked for or on behalf of the U.S. government in Iraq, and
  • Afghan nationals who worked for or on behalf of the U.S. government in Afghanistan.

Each of these categories must meet its own special requirements in terms of eligibility and documentation, which you'll need to look into before applying.

Who Qualifies for a Green Card Under VAWA?

VAWA offers immigration benefits to eligible spouses, parents, and children who have been victims of abuse by their petitioning U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse, child, or parent. Its intention was to help foreign nationals avoid having to depend on their U.S. family member to help them obtain lawful status in the United States, which can give abusive family members a means of controlling the immigrant. (Literally something along the lines of, "If you complain or don't obey, I will withdraw my immigration petition for you or won't file your paperwork.")

See Process to Get a Green Card Under VAWA for the rules on getting a green card as a battered spouse or family member.

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.

Who Qualifies as an Amerasian Immigrant?

Because this category was created to acknowledge U.S. immigration rights for foreign-born children of servicemen in the Korean and Vietnam wars, almost no one qualifies anymore. See USCIS's discussion of this category for details.

The I-360 Submission Process

As a first step the applicant, or petitioning organization, should fill out Form I-360, bearing in mind that several sections can be left blank, because they won't apply to everyone.

In Part 1, you'll supply basic information about yourself. Don't worry if you don't have a USCIS Online Account number; only people who've filed certain sorts of applications in the past would have one. Similarly, you should have a Social Security number only if you have or had a legal right to work in the United States.

In Part 2, you'll check a box indicating the basis of your eligibility.

Part 3 asks for more information about you.

In Part 4, you will need to designate a U.S. consulate for processing and interviewing, preferably in your home country unless you are a resident elsewhere. Fill this in even if you live in the U.S., as a backup; not everyone who lives in the U.S. is eligible to complete the green card application process there (called "adjusting status").

Be sure to fill out Part 5, listing your spouse and children, regardless of which category you are applying in. They might be able to get green cards at the same time as you; or if not, you might be able to petition for them later (which will be difficult if you did not reveal their existence in this application).

After this, which sections you will fill out depends mostly on which category you're applying under. You'll see the language "Complete only if filing under," and should proceed until you find the category that fits you, and fill that section in.

Then be sure to sign in Part 11 (assuming another organization isn't preparing the form for you).

Skip most of the remaining portions; if someone else is helping you with the form, they'll know to fill out their own section. But you can use Part 15 to insert information that didn't fit on the main form.

When finished, you must mail the form to USCIS, following the instructions on its website. Along with the form, you must submit the proper supporting documents, as also described by USCIS in the downloadable instructions to the form.

In some, but not all cases, a fee is required with the I-360 petition (the figure was $435 in mid-2022, but check the latest on the USCIS website). The categories of applicants who do not owe a fee with the application include:

  • Amerasians
  • self-petitioning battered or abused spouses, parents, or children
  • Special Immigrant Juveniles; and
  • Iraqi or Afghan Nationals who worked for or on behalf of the U.S. government.

Make a complete copy of everything you send before you mail it (in case it gets lost, which is not uncommon), and do not send original documents unless you do not want them back.

Once your petition is approved, you can file an application for permanent resident status (a green card). Or, if you are already in the U.S. lawfully and are eligible to adjust status, you might be able to send in your application for "adjustment of status" to USCIS concurrently with the I-360, without waiting for it to be approved first.

The procedure for issuing the green card is different if conducted from abroad rather than within the United States. In that case, USCIS will, after approving your I-360, communicate with the National Visa Center (NVC) and/or your local U.S. consulate, and you will receive further instructions from them.

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