Criminal activities do not always involve residents of a particular city of country. Many criminals target those who are staying in the country as tourists and visitors, or even illegal immigrants. These victims of crimes are often valuable witnesses and can offer insight into convicting the criminal. However, they are sometimes reluctant to provide this information since they are scared of being deported.
To eliminate this fear which stands as a barrier to catching many criminals, the U.S Congress passed the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act together with the Battered Immigrant Women’s Protection Act in 2000. Based on these acts, the government created two types of visas for victims of crimes:
- U visa – Victims who have suffered mental and physical abuse
- T visa – Victims of human trafficking
This article will give details regarding the U visa and how to obtain it.
What is U Visa?
The U visa is a U.S non-immigrant visa designed for two reasons:
- To protect victims of crimes who are not U.S citizens
- To gather information regarding crimes
The U visa protects victims by giving them a legal status in the U.S where U.S law enforcement can stand with them against the crimes committed. The crime must have occurred within U.S soil for this visa to apply. In addition, the victim who gets the U visa status gives valuable information to police and other law enforcement regarding the crime. This information can then be used to track the criminal and make a conviction.
For the U visa to be an option, the victim must have suffered physical or mental abuse that comes from the crime. Also, the person must be willing to cooperate with the U.S government regarding that crime. This visa has been immensely helpful for victims of domestic and sexual abuse, as well as other crimes.
What Crimes Qualify You for a U Visa?
To better define what you can get the U visa for, the U.S government has listed the types of crimes for which victims can seek U visa status. If you were a victim of these crimes, then you might qualify for the U visa:
|Abduction||Abusive Sexual Contact||Blackmail|
|Domestic Violence||Extortion||False Imprisonment|
|Female Genital Mutilation||Felonious Assault||Fraud in Foreign Labor Contracting|
|Obstruction of Justice||Peonage||Perjury|
|Sexual Exploitation||Slave Trade||Stalking|
|Unlawful Criminal Restraint||Other similar crimes||Attempt, conspiracy or solicitation to commit the above mentioned crimes|
U Visa Benefits
Those victims who are granted U visa status have the right to remain in the U.S for the period that their visa is valid. They become legal non-immigrants and have the following rights:
- Open a bank account
- Get a driver’s license
- Enroll in academic or vocational study
- Work as legal employees
The last part which includes the right to work is automatic for U visa holders. Immediately after the victim is granted U status, they obtain the Employment Authorization Document (EAD), and do not need to file Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization to get it. With the EAD, U visa holders can work in any legal industry and in any capacity, both full and part time. Additionally, they do not need to find a job immediately, but the EAD only gives them the right to work whenever they want or feel able to.
However, before getting the U visa benefits, victims must apply for the U visa. The U visa based on U.S government directives has a cap. This means that there is a limited number of these visas issued each year. In total, no more than 10,000 U visas may be given in one fiscal year. This includes only the principal applicants, so the victims, and not their family or dependents.
If there are too many applications in one year, the U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which is in charge of these visas is allowed to create a wait list for those who qualify for the U visa. The people on the wait list are granted employment authorizations, and when more U visas become available, they automatically get them.
What are the types of U visas?
The U visa for victims of crimes has several types of statuses granted to the principal victim and the derivative family members. These are the types of U visas:
- U-1 visa for the principal victim of the criminal activity who can share information with U.S law enforcement.
- U-2 visa is a derived U visa for the spouse of the U-1 visa holder. The U.S only accepts legal marriage which can be proven through certificates and ceremonies, and does not accept multiple spouses.
- U-3 visa is for the children of the U-1 visa holder who have valid birth certificates.
- U-4 visa is for the parents of the U-1 visa holders. The U-1 visa holder must be under 21 years old for the parents to qualify for a U-4 visa.
- U-5 visa is for unmarried siblings under 18 years old of the U-1 visa holder. For the siblings to qualify for a U-5 visa, the U-1 visa holder must be under 21 years old.
Despite the five types of U visas, the primary U-1 visa holder must have an approved and valid visa for the other family members and dependents to be eligible to apply for one.
What are the U Visa requirements?
To qualify for the U visa, the victim of the crime or applicant must fulfill several requirements, such as:
- Be the victim of one of the crimes listed above
- Have reported or talked to the police about the crime
- Have suffered physical or mental abuse from the crime
- Have information regarding the crime which they share with law enforcement. If the victim is under 16 years old, they may have a family member or guardian share the information for them.
- Obtain a Certificate of Helpfulness from the law enforcement agency which proves that you were helpful during investigation
- The crime must have happened within U.S territory
- The victim is admissible as a non-immigrant in the U.S. In case the victim is inadmissible, they must file Form I-192, Application for Advance Permission to Enter as a Non-immigrant. If this form is approved, the inadmissibility will be waived.
How to apply for the U visa?
The U visa application process has several steps and forms which you need to submit. Also, since this applies to victims of crimes and violence, the application procedure is free of charge. There are no fees to apply for, but there are fees for filing some of the forms. However, to avoid these fees, you can file for a waiver by sending in a written request or Form I-912, Request for Fee Waiver.
The steps to apply for the U visa are as follows:
Fill in Form DS-160, Application for Non-immigrant Visa. The form is online and is the first step for applying for any non-immigrant visa. When you submit all of your information and the details of the visa you are applying for, you will get a confirmation page and number, which you will need for your documents file.
If you are inside the U.S at the time of the application, you must send these documents at USCIS:
- Form I-918, Petition for U Non-immigrant Status
- Form I-918, Supplement B, U Non-immigrant Status Certification. This is your Certification of Helpfulness which is released by a law enforcement official and agency. It must state that you were helpful in the criminal case or that you will be helpful in the future for a successful investigation.
- Personal statement which describes your situation, the crime that you were a victim of and the abuse you have suffered
- Police and court records proving you were a victim of the crime
- Medical records from doctors and hospitals which prove you have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse directly from the crime. This can involve letters, photographs, or affidavits.
- Documents proving your identity, such as a valid passport or birth certificate
- Letters from family and friends which describe your abuse due to the crime
- If you are inadmissible because of past immigration violations, you must file Form I-192, and have it approved.
- DS-160 confirmation page
- One photograph meeting the Photo Requirements
If you are outside the U.S, you must take these steps:
- File all the above mentioned documents to the Vermont Service Center
- Schedule an interview at your nearest U.S Embassy and obtain a visa appointment letter
- Conduct the interview with a U.S Embassy Official
Whether you are applying from within or outside the U.S, you must get your petition approved from USCIS to qualify for the U visa. When USCIS approves your petition, you will get a Form I-797, Notice of Action, which you must attach to your documents. In addition, you will be required to send in biometric information to USCIS or the Vermont Service Center. Besides photographs, this also includes fingerprints.
How long does it take to process U visa?
After you send in your application, you must wait for USCIS to process it. Unfortunately, the U visa takes quite some time to process. On average, it will take from one to one and a half years for the U visa to be processed and approved.
The processing times may vary widely though, since for example, if you are required to send in additional evidence to USCIS, processing times may become longer.
How long is the U visa valid?
From the time that your petition for the U visa is approved and stamped on your passport, it is valid for a maximum of 4 years. During those 4 years, you are allowed to live and work in the U.S as a non-immigrant.
When your status is close to expiring, you can request an extension from USCIS. Extensions are done by filing Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status. However, getting this extension is particularly difficult and only depends on the following reasons:
- If your information is needed from law enforcement agencies
- If you are needed on exceptional circumstances
- If there are delays in consular processing
Can I apply for a Green Card with a U visa?
When you have a U visa for 3 years, you are eligible to apply for an adjustment of status. This means that you can apply for a Green Card. To be eligible for U.S permanent residence, besides having the U visa for 3 years, you must also have complied with U.S law enforcement requests. So you must have shared all information regarding the crime to the police and not withheld anything.
Dependents and Family Visas (U-2, U-3, U-4, and U-5 visa)
As mentioned, with a U visa, you are allowed to bring your spouse, children, parents, and siblings under some circumstances with you in the U.S. After you get your own U visa, you can then petition for family members by filing Form I-918, Supplement A, Petition for Qualifying Family Member of U-1 Recipient.
If your family members are eligible and approved the U dependents visas, they are also allowed to file for work authorization and start employment. Their EADs will not be granted automatically, but they have to apply for them.
Additionally, if you are given a Green Card, your family members can also apply for the Green Card by filing Form I-929, Petition for Qualifying Family Member of U-1 Nonimmigrant. This petition must be filed for each family member individually.