A New Hope: Abuse Survivors Can Self-Petition for U.S. Permanent Resident Status


Abuse and Family-Based Immigration


Every year, hundreds of thousands of people apply to become U.S. permanent residents through family-based visa applications. For many, the process constitutes the start of a new life in the land of opportunity, and a joyful reunification with loved ones. However, for others, the process of adjusting status is filled with great anxiety because of abuse they are undergoing at the hands of relatives who are U.S. citizens and/or lawful permanent residents.


Prospective applicants may feel pressured to remain with their abusive family members as they fear it is their only avenue for becoming a permanent resident. In some cases, abusive relatives threaten to call immigration on their family members for status violations and/or refuse to sponsor their petitions.


Under U.S. immigration law, every human being is entitled to respect and personal safety. If you are the victim of similar abuse, you do not have to remain in that situation; you have options and can get help.


Thankfully, USCIS has an application tailored to survivors of abuse which allows them to self-petition for permanent residence under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).


It is important to note that this protection is not limited to women, but is gender-neutral. Accordingly, all survivors of domestic abuse can apply to adjust status under VAWA using form I-360 Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant.


Under VAWA immigrants who survive abuse have the right to:

  • Apply to become a permanent resident (through self-petition- form I-360)

  • Apply for work authorization

  • Apply for a Social Security Number (SSN)

  • Apply for a driver’s license

  • Receive certain public benefits


Eligible Immigrants


Foreign nationals can apply under the VAWA statute if they were abused by any of the following individuals:

  • A U.S. citizen spouse or former spouse;

  • A U.S. citizen parent;

  • A U.S. citizen son or daughter;

  • A Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) spouse or former spouse; or

  • An LPR parent.

Benefits Available to Immigrants Who Survive Abuse


Under the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) “qualified immigrants” became eligible for certain benefits at a federal and state level. Battered immigrants can become "qualified" if they meet specific requirements. The ability of qualified immigrants to access these benefits varies by state, according to each respective state's laws.


Federal Benefits


  • Federal Means-Tested Public Benefits: the receipt of benefits and/or their respective quantities are determined by the individual’s income and resources.

Qualified immigrants who entered the U.S. on or after August 22, 1996, are barred from receiving these benefits for the first five years of their “qualified” status.


These benefits include Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and SNAP (Food Stamps). (However, as stated above, state by state exceptions exist).


Those who entered before August 22, 1996, and qualify for exemptions can access Supplemental Security Income (SSI).


  • Federal Public Benefits: are open to all qualified immigrants without limitation. They include grants, contracts, loans, and professional or commercial licenses provided by a U.S. agency. They also encompass benefits for retirement, welfare, health, disability, public or assisted housing, post-secondary education, food assistance, and unemployment.


  • Other Federally Funded Social Service Programs: are open to all immigrants regardless of status (including undocumented ones).

(For the full list of available federal benefits and the conditions under which qualified immigrants can access them in New Jersey, stay tuned for next week’s blog post.)


To access these benefits, you must become a qualified immigrant by filing your VAWA application with USCIS. When filing your I-360 petition, you may want to enlist the help of an immigration attorney.


5 Reasons to Use an Immigration Attorney to File Your VAWA Application

  • Personal safety. An attorney can help you prepare your application, in confidence, to avoid interference from your abusive family member.

  • Your lawyer can receive correspondence associated with your application on your behalf, thereby preventing it from being intercepted by your abuser.

  • VAWA applications can be tedious as they require the submission of numerous supporting documents. Your lawyer can advise you on the best exhibits to include and make the process of assembling your application more convenient.

  • Immigration lawyers are seasoned in the preparation VAWA applications and can assist you in producing a robust application, thereby improving your chances of having your petition approved.

  • Immigration lawyers can offer guidance on preparing your personal statement and contacting suitable professionals to prepare reports on your behalf. (These include police, judges and other court officials, medical personnel, school officials, clergy, social workers and other social service agency personnel.)

At The Murray Law Firm, we have helped numerous persons obtain permanent resident status via I-360 VAWA petitions. We are a pro-immigrant law firm that assists deserving parties in securing their future in the U.S; enabling them to have a fresh start and build a new life. We can stand by your side and support you throughout this important process.


Send us an E-mail or call us at (888)354-6257. For reasons on why you should consult an immigration attorney whenever you have an immigration issue, see our page titled: Reasons Why it is Vital to Use an Immigration Lawyer.

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