A U visa is a type of non-immigrant visa that is available to victims of certain crimes who have suffered mental or physical abuse and are willing to assist law enforcement agencies in investigating and prosecuting the crime. The U visa was created in 2000 as part of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (VTVPA).
To be eligible for a U visa, an individual must have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of having been a victim of certain crimes, such as domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, or other violent crimes. The individual must also have information about the crime and be willing to assist law enforcement in investigating or prosecuting the crime.
If approved, the U visa provides temporary legal status to the victim and allows them to remain in the United States for up to four years. During this time, the victim may be eligible to work and may also be eligible to apply for a green card after three years. Additionally, immediate family members of the victim may be eligible for U visas as well.
The U visa program is designed to encourage victims of crime to come forward and assist law enforcement without fear of deportation. It also helps to ensure that perpetrators of violent crimes are brought to justice.
To be eligible for a U visa, an individual must meet the following requirements:
- Be a victim of a qualifying crime: The individual must have been the victim of a qualifying crime that occurred in the United States or violated U.S. laws. Qualifying crimes include but are not limited to domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, and kidnapping.
- Suffered substantial physical or mental abuse: The individual must have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of the qualifying crime.
- Have information about the crime: The individual must have information about the qualifying crime and be willing to assist law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of the crime. This may include providing testimony, evidence, or other assistance.
- Be helpful to law enforcement: The individual must be helpful to law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of the crime. This may include cooperating with law enforcement agencies, such as the police or prosecutor's office.
- Have admissibility to the U.S.: The individual must not have any criminal convictions or other factors that would make them inadmissible to the United States. This requirement can be waived in certain circumstances.
- Be present in the U.S.: The individual must be present in the United States or its territories at the time of the U visa application. However, the individual does not need to have entered the U.S. legally to be eligible for a U visa.
The process of obtaining a U visa involves several steps, which are as follows:
- Determine eligibility: The first step is to determine whether you are eligible for a U visa. To be eligible, you must have been a victim of a qualifying crime and have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of the crime.
- Obtain certification from law enforcement: To apply for a U visa, you must obtain a certification from a law enforcement agency that confirms you have been helpful, are currently being helpful, or are likely to be helpful in the investigation or prosecution of the crime. This certification is called a Form I-918, Supplement B, and is usually issued by a local police department, prosecutor’s office, or other law enforcement agency.
- Gather supporting documents: Once you have obtained the certification, you will need to gather other supporting documents, such as medical records, police reports, and any other evidence that demonstrates you have been a victim of a qualifying crime.
- Complete and file Form I-918: The next step is to complete and file Form I-918, Petition for U Nonimmigrant Status, along with all the supporting documents. This form can be filed with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
- Wait for a decision: After you have filed the petition, you will need to wait for a decision from USCIS. The processing time for U visa applications can vary, but it typically takes several months to a year or more.
- If approved, obtain a U visa: If your U visa application is approved, you will receive a U visa, which allows you to live and work in the United States for up to four years. After three years of living in the U.S. on a U visa, you may be eligible to apply for a green card (lawful permanent residence).
Useful links for U-visa applicants
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS): https://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/victims-of-human-trafficking-and-other-crimes/victims-of-criminal-activity-u-nonimmigrant-status
- National Immigration Law Center (NILC): https://www.nilc.org/issues/immigration-reform-and-executive-actions/u-nonimmigrant-status/
- American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA): https://www.aila.org/practice/practice-resources/immigration-practice-resources/u-visa
- Human Rights Watch: https://www.hrw.org/topic/immigrants-rights/u-visa
- National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV): https://nnedv.org/content/u-visa/
- Polaris: https://polarisproject.org/u-visa/
It is important to note that the U visa application process can be complex, and it may be helpful to consult with an immigration attorney who has experience handling U visa cases. Additionally, the availability of U visas is limited each year, and demand often exceeds the supply, so it is important to apply as soon as possible if you believe you are eligible.
- Published by Salar Tavangar, Esq.