The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 authorized two new visas: the “U” visa for immigrant victims of serious crimes and the “T” visa for victims of severe human trafficking. These visas were created due to rising public safety concerns, with the idea that foreign victims of crimes in the U.S. should be allowed to remain in order to provide law enforcement officials with information that will assist in apprehending and prosecuting criminal offenders.
If you are approved for a U visa, you will be granted legal status in the U.S. for up to four years (which may be extended if "exceptional circumstances" warrant it). Once you have held your U visa for three years, you may be eligible to apply for legal permanent residence (a "green card").
However, it is not enough to simply state that you have been a victim of a serious crime in order to get a U visa. You will need to provide a certificate of helpfulness from a qualifying law enforcement agency and prove that you suffered mental or physical abuse by a U.S. perpetrator. Additionally, if you are “inadmissible” to the U.S. due to past immigration violations or for other reasons, you will need to apply for a waiver of these grounds.
U Visa Eligibility Criteria
In order to apply for a U visa using Form I-918, Petition for U Nonimmigrant Status, an individual must meet the following criteria and provide substantial evidence to U.S.C.I.S.:
- Must have been a victim of a “qualifying criminal activity,” and this crime must have occurred in the U.S. or violated U.S. law. Indirect and bystander victims are also eligible to apply in certain circumstances. For example, a murder victim obviously cannot benefit from a U visa, but another person who witnessed the murder or a close family member who was impacted by it may have information that is helpful to law enforcement.
- In the course of this criminal activity, must have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse.
- Have useful information about this criminal activity (or if under age 16, the parent, guardian or “next friend” such as a counselor or social worker can provide this information on behalf of the individual).
- Have been or will be “helpful” to law enforcement in order to bring the perpetrator of this crime to justice
- Must be admissible to the U.S. or file a waiver application Form I-192, Application for Advance Permission to Enter as a Non-Immigrant.
What Crimes Qualify Its Victims for a U Visa
In a typical U visa case, an individual is the victim of a serious crime that took place in the U.S. In some cases, however, the crime might have violated U.S. laws overseas (such as a human trafficking or kidnapping crime). Examples of qualifying crimes are:
Violent crimes: murder, manslaughter, vehicular homicide, robbery, felonious assault (what qualifies as felonious assault can differ, but usually involves the use of a deadly weapon, and can include statutory rape and other offenses), and domestic violence. Stalking was also added to the list of crimes for petitions filed after March 7, 2013.
Enslavement crimes: criminal restraint, kidnapping, abduction, being held hostage, forced labor, slavery, human trafficking, indentured or debt servitude, and false imprisonment.
Sexual crimes: rape, incest, sexual trafficking, sexual assault and abusive sexual contact, prostitution, sexual exploitation, and female genital mutilation.
Obstruction of justice crimes: perjury, witness tampering, withholding evidence.
Fraud in foreign labor contracting: a later addition to the statute, made in 2014.
The crime need not have been “completed” in order for it to qualify. An attempt, solicitation, or conspiracy to commit one of the above-mentioned crimes is enough. For example, a victim of attempted murder may qualify for a U visa.
An Applicant Must Prove Substantial Physical or Mental Abuse
It is not enough to merely be victim of a qualifying crime. An applicant must have suffered “substantial” physical injury or mental anguish as a result of this criminal activity and must provide U.S.C.I.S. with medical records and affidavits to support this claim. In determining whether the injury suffered was “substantial,” U.S.C.I.S. will consider how severe the injury was, for how long the abuse occurred, and how likely it is to cause lasting or permanent harm.
A personal statement detailing the physical or mental harm suffered, as well as medical records or statements from treating physicians and psychologists, photographs of physical injuries, and affidavits from social workers should be submitted.
An Applicant Must Have Helpful Information to Provide to Law Enforcement
One of the reasons for the authorization of U visas is that many U.S. immigrants do not provide information to law enforcement due to cultural differences, language barriers, and fear of deportation. Due to this reluctance to report, many perpetrators of serious crime have viewed immigrants as an excellent “target.”
In order to further the public safety objectives of these visas, the petition must be certified by a police official (or other law enforcement official) who will attest that the applicant was a victim of a qualifying crime and is likely to be helpful to an investigation or prosecution of the crime.
For this reason, an applicant is more likely to obtain a law enforcement official to cooperate with your U visa application if he/she is forthcoming in providing information leading to the identification, arrest, and conviction of a serious criminal.
A Waiver Is Available If an Applicant is Inadmissible
To be eligible for a U visa, an applicant must be admissible to the U.S. or qualify for a waiver. In other words, an applicant cannot be approved for a U visa without a waiver excusing any grounds of inadmissibility that may apply to him/her, which could include multiple criminal convictions, previous immigration violations, certain medical conditions, or any of several other reasons.
For purposes of a U visa, an applicant is not considered inadmissible on the basis of public charge (someone who might have to rely on need-based public assistance). This bar is not applicable to U visa applicants as of 2014.
In order to apply for a waiver of inadmissibility, a Form I-192, Application for Advance Permission to Enter as a Nonimmigrant must be submitted to U.S.C.I.S. Unlike the I-601 inadmissibility waiver that is required for other nonimmigrant and immigrant petitions, this waiver does not require a showing of “extreme hardship.” I-192 waiver applications are reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
Qualifying Family Members May Receive Derivative U Visas
Certain family members may be eligible to become derivative U visa recipients if the principal applicant’s application is approved. These include:
- Unmarried children under age 21
- Parents (if principal petitioner is under age 21), and
- Unmarried siblings under 18 years old (if principal petitioner is under age 21).
A separate application, Form I-918, Supplement A, Petition for Qualifying Family Member of U Visa Recipient, must be filed along with the principal applicant’s own petition or after the principal applicant’s U visa is approved. Any derivative relatives must also be “admissible” to the U.S. (or apply for a waiver) and have good moral character. (The "public charge" ground of inadmissibility doesn't apply to derivative family members, either.)
If you think you may be eligible for a U visa based on the above, you should start the application process as soon as possible. If you can provide plenty of details to aid law enforcement, you will improve your chances to receive a certification of helpfulness.
In the event that you obtain a certification from an appropriate law enforcement official, you must file for your U visa within six months of the date of the certification. If you do not, the certification will expire and you will need to obtain a new certification.
An individual can apply for a U visa from within the U.S. or abroad at a U.S. consulate. Applying for a U Visa is an extremely complicated process. Therefore, it is advisable to consult an experienced immigration attorney before beginning the process. For details and assistance in filing for U status, contact us at (617) 536-0584 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.