U Visa: For Immigrant Victims of Crimes
The U Visa is a U.S. Visa for immigrants who are victims of crimes, making it possible for them to attain temporary -- and in some cases permanent -- legal status.
The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 provided new hope for immigrants who are victims of crimes, making it possible for victims to attain temporary legal status. Both the T-visa and the U-visa are designed to provide immigration status to non-citizens that are assisting or are willing to assist authorities in the investigation of certain crimes. This article gives an overview of the U Visa.
Purpose of the U Visa
The U Visa has been coined an effective resource for law enforcement, particularly for undocumented immigrants who are at a higher risk of abuse, exploitation, and victimization because of their status and fear of deportation if they report a crime. The U Visa gives victims of certain crimes temporary legal status in return for their cooperation with police officers in criminal matters. Law enforcement agencies are, in turn, able to step up their enforcement efforts to investigate and prosecute criminal cases that otherwise might have gone unreported.
The U Visa provides temporary relief for immigrants who are victims of a host of different crimes, including domestic violence and sexual assault. In addition, it provides relief for undocumented immigrants who are the victims of certain targeted crimes, including wage theft and trafficking of aliens. In practice, the U Visa has served primarily as a channel for victims of domestic violence, allowing them to report their abusers without fear of being detected. Approximately three-fourths of all applicants for the U Visa are victims of domestic violence.
Process for Filing and Eligibility Rules
In order to be eligible to apply for the U Visa, certain requirements must be met, including:
- The person was the victim of one of the following crimes:
- Abusive Sexual Contact
- Involuntary Servitude
- Sexual Assault
- Sexual Exploitation
- Domestic Violence
- Slave Trade
- False Imprisonment
- Obstruction of Justice
- Felonious Assault
- Unlawful Criminal Restraint
- Female Genital Mutilation
- Witness Tampering
- Hostage Prostitution
- Attempt, conspiracy or solicitation to commit any of the above crimes
- The victim has suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of having been a victim of one of the above crimes;
- The victim has useful information concerning the crime which occurred;
- The victim has helped, or is likely to help, in the investigation or prosecution of the crime; and
- The crime violated the laws of the United States or occurred in the United States.
In order to apply for a U Visa, the non-citizen crime victim must file Form I-918 with the USCIS office at the Vermont Service Center. Before submitting the application, the person applying for the visa must obtain a law enforcement certification from a federal, state, or local law enforcement agency, or a prosecutor, judge or other authority responsible for the investigation or prosecution of the crime, such as child protective services, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the Department of Labor. The form can be found in Supplement B to Form I-918 and must be certified by the head of the agency or a person authorized to issue certification.
Family members may be included on the petition, including spouses, children, unmarried sisters and brothers under 18, mothers, fathers, stepparents, and adoptive parents.
The abuser does not need to be a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident.
Victims of domestic violence who are not married to the abuser, or who have been abused by spouses who are not U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents, are not eligible to self-petition under VAWA, but may seek status under the U Visa.
Immigrants and their family members are not required to be physically present in the U.S. to qualify for a U Visa. They can apply from abroad provided that the criminal activity violated U.S. law or occurred in U.S. territories.
USCIS can only grant U Visa status to 10,000 non-citizens in each year. This number does not include family members of applicants.
Immigrants granted U Visa status can remain in the United States for a period of up to 4 years, with possible extensions in certain cases, and after three years, U Visa holders may eligible for lawful permanent residence.
U Visa holders automatically qualify for employment authorization.
While there is no filing fee for applicants for the U Visa or qualifying family members, there is an $80 fingerprinting fee per person.
It is important to consult a qualified immigration expert who is familiar with the detailed process of submitting an application. For more information on eligibility and the legal requirements for submitting a U Visa, contact an experienced immigration lawyer.