Immigrants First - Violence Against Women Act Petitions

Legal Services


Violence Against Women Act Petitions

If you or your children are foreign nationals and are in a marital or parental relationship with an abusive United States citizen (USC) or green card holder (LPR), you and/or your children may qualify to self-petition for green card status. Our Firm has extensive experience with domestic violence issues in the immigration context, works closely with domestic violence support services, and can advise you on a course of action that is best for the overall welfare of you and your children.

There are many issues that arise for families experiencing domestic violence and if a child or spouse is a foreign national there are additional considerations to be taken into account. Most importantly, family members, regardless of legal status, should do what is best for the safety of themselves and their children. If there is an emergency situation, call 911 for help or contact a domestic violence shelter. If you live in Prince William County, VA, the local shelter is ACTS/Turning Points: 703-221- 4951 To create a safety plan for yourself: go to to see sample safety plans. For more information on domestic violence shelters and programs in your area, see our Helpful Resources page.

CAUTION: Be aware that in certain jurisdictions where local police cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), such as Prince William County, VA and many other jurisdictions, taking action that involves law enforcement or the judicial system, including filing police complaints or getting restraining orders, may result in the abusive spouse or parent coming into the custody of ICE and/or their immigration status being jeopardized. (See our Helpful Resources page for more information on 287(g) and Secured Communities ICE programs.) There are also immigration consequences of divorce that can negatively impact a foreign national, especially if that person is a conditional resident.

International child abduction is a rising phenomenon and has become especially prevalent in families where a parent is a foreign national and the marriage is deteriorating.

If your spouse has threatened to take the children out of the United States, it is important to take the following steps:


  • Register your child with the Department of State’s Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program (CPIAP) (available only for USC children under 18).

  • If your children have dual nationality, contact the embassy of their other country of citizenship and alert them to your concerns and request that a passport not be issued to the child.

  • Keep your child’s passport in a safe and secret place. Alert schools, churches, and the police of your concerns. Let child care providers know that the child is not to be released to anyone without the custodial parent’s authorization.
  • Teach your children how and when to call home.

  • Find out if your spouse’s country of origin is a signatory to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See country list at:
    See information about the Hague Convention at:

  • If you are in the process of divorce and a custody dispute, petition the court for safeguards that are appropriate to protect the children from abduction and do not agree to joint custody with the threatening parent. If joint custody is issued, the order should state clearly the child’s residential arrangements so that future enforcement will be possible.

If your children have already been abducted by your spouse, take the following actions:

  • File a missing persons report immediately. Ask the police to enter the child’s description into the National Crime Information Center Missing Persons File.

  • Contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children: 1-800-843-5678.

  • Contact the State Department Office of Children’s Issues and request assistance. Go to load a copy of the booklet, International Child Abduction.

  • File for custody and file criminal charges. Consider a tort action for wrongful removal, retention, and concealment of a child.

  • Contact the FBI and ask that they notify INTERPOL (US National Central Bureau – INTERPOL (1- 800-743-5630) to provide immediate assistance in stopping the abduction.

  • Contact state, local, and federal offices of victims of crime (OVC).

  • Contact Project Hope, 1-800-306-6311, a national support network of parents who have experienced abductions.

  • Contact the State and Federal Parent Locator Service. 202-401-9267.

  • Once the children are returned, engage in counseling for yourself and the children.

For helpful links on preventing international child abduction, see our Helpful Resources page.


  • Birth certificates of yourself, spouse, and all children and passports of yourself, spouse, and children (if copying passports, copy every single page of each

  • Immigration documentation of any kind, including past filings, employment authorization cards, and green cards for family members.

  • Marriage and divorce certificates.

  • Family and wedding photographs, wedding invitations, and other evidence of a good faith marriage.

  • Medical records, police reports, restraining orders – any evidence documenting abuse, including photographs of property damage and physical injury.

  • Proof of joint residency with abusive spouse: bank statements, bills, etc.

  • Address book, important phone numbers, and correspondence.

  • Bank cards, check books, money, and keys to safe deposit boxes, home, and car.

  • Leases, mortgages, wills, and other important legal documentation

Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Petition. In order to qualify for VAWA relief, a spouse or child must demonstrate the following:

  • He or she was battered or subject to extreme cruelty during the marriage.

  • He or she resided with the United States citizen (USC)/lawful permanent resident (LPR) spouse or parent.

  • The marriage was entered into in good faith (bona fide marriage), and he or she is a person of good moral character.

  • He or she is currently residing in the United States. An abused spouse can still petition within 2 years of death of or divorce from the abusive USC/LPR spouse, so long as the divorce is related to the abuse.

Battered Spouse Waiver. If a spouse is a conditional resident and is being or has been battered by or was the subject of extreme cruelty by the USC/LPR spouse and the foreign national spouse was not at fault in failing to meet the petitioning requirements, then a waiver may be obtained to allow the conditions to be removed without the abusive spouse’s participation.