The Immigration Reform Act of 1990 created the “battered spouse waiver,” which allows victims of domestic violence who obtained conditional permanent residency based on their marriage to a U.S. citizen to file an application to remove that conditionality without the assistance of their spouse if they are in an abusive relationship. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) of 1994 included provisions to allow noncitizen victims of domestic violence to obtain immigration relief independent of their abusive spouse or parent through a process called “self-petitioning.” The Battered Immigrant Women Protection Act of 2000 (VAWA 2000) created new forms of immigration relief for noncitizen victims of violent crime (“U” visas) and victims of sexual assault or trafficking (“T” visas). Finally, the Violence Against Women Act of 2005 expanded these protections and included some victims of elder abuse.

While the original aim of the Act was to protect women, the petition can also be filed by men who are the victims of domestic violence. 

Under VAWA, non-citizen victims of domestic violence, child abuse, or elder abuse may “self-petition” for LPR status without the cooperation of an abusive spouse, parent, or adult child. Victims may also self-petition if they are divorced as long as the marriage to the abusive spouse was terminated within two years of filing the petition, and there is a connection between the divorce and the domestic violence. 

An approved VAWA self-petition provides the applicant with work authorization, deferred action, and an approved non-citizen petition which allows him or her to apply for lawful permanent residence.