People who are involved in criminal activities are not always residents of a particular city or country. Often criminals target people who are temporarily staying in the country as visitors and tourists, or even illegal immigrants. The people that are a victim of a crime can serve a valuable witness and can offer insights solving the case. In some cases, they refuse to provide this valuable information since they are scared of being deported.
Just for these cases eliminating the fear which acts as a barrier for solving criminal activities, the U.S Congress passed the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act as well as the Battered Immigrant Women’s Protection Act in 2000. These acts will allow the victims of crime to obtain these types of visas:
- T Visa – Victims of human trafficking
- U visa – Victims who have suffered mental and physical abuse
In this article, we will provide you with information about the U visa and how to obtain it.
What is U Visa?
It is a U.S non-immigrant visa specially designed for two reasons:
- To gather the information that will help solve a crime
- To protect victims of crimes who are not U.S citizens
The U visa is designed to protect victims by allowing them a legal status in the U.S where U.S law enforcement can provide support to them against the crimes committed. In order to be granted the U visa, the crime must be committed on U.S soil. After obtaining the U visa, the victim gives valuable information to the police and other law enforcement that will help them solve the case. The criminal can be arrested using the information provided by the victim.
In order to be eligible to obtain a U visa, the victim must suffer physical or mental abuse that comes from the crime. Also, cooperation with the U.S government regarding the crime is a must. This visa proves to be extremely helpful for victims of sexual or domestic abuse, as well as other crimes.
Just for better defining the requirements, the U.S government has listed the types of crimes for which the victims can be eligible to obtain U visa status. You might qualify for the U visa if you were a victim of these crimes:
|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
The victims after obtaining the U visa status are allowed to remain in the U.S for the period that their visa is valid. U visa holders become legal non-immigrants and have the following rights:
- Work as legal employees
- Open a bank account
- Get a driver’s license
- Enroll in academic or vocational study
As you can see the U visa holders have the right to work. Immediately after obtaining the U visa, they obtain the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) and do not have to file Form I-765 in order to get it. Once they possess the EAD, they are allowed to work in any legal industry and in any capacity, for part-time as well as full time. They do not have to find work immediately, with the EAD they can apply for a job whenever they want or feel able to.
In order to get all these benefits, firstly the victims must apply for the U visa. The U visa based on U.S government directives has a cap. In other words, there is a limit on the U visas granted each year. The total number of U visas that can be obtained by victims is 10,000. This applies only to the principal applicants (the victims), not including their family or dependents.
The U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is allowed to create a wait list for those who qualify for the U visa in case the limit is already reached. The people that are on the wait list can obtain employment authorization document, and as soon as the U visas become available, they automatically get them.
What Are the Types of U Visas?
There are a couple of different types of U visa that victims of crimes and derivative family members can obtain. Following 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 different types of U visas, the U-1 which is the primary visa holder must have an approved and valid visa for the other family members and dependents in order to be eligible to apply for one.
What Are the U Visa Requirements?
In order for the victim to apply for U visa, they have to fulfill several requirements, such as:
- Be the victim of one of the crimes listed above
- Have suffered physical or mental abuse from the crime
- Have reported or talked to the police about 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.
- 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.
- Obtain a Certificate of Helpfulness from the law enforcement agency which proves that you were helpful during the investigation
How to Apply for the U Visa?
The victim has to go through several steps and submit several forms in order to start the application for U visa. Just because these visas are granted to victims of crimes and violence, the application procedure is free of charge. However, there might be some fees for filing some of the forms. In order to avoid these fees, you can file for a waiver by sending in a written request or Form I-912, Request for Fee Waiver.
Following are the steps to apply for the U visa:
You must fill Form DS-160, Application for Non-immigrant Visa. This form can be found online and it is the first step for applying for any non-immigrant visa. You will get a confirmation page and number that you must save for your documents file just after filling all the requested information and details of the visa you are applying for.
You must send these documents to the USCIS if you are inside the U.S at that time:
- 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.
- Your personal statement which describes your situation, as well as the crime that you were involved in and the abuse you have suffered
- Police and court records proving that you really were a victim of crime
- Medical records signed by doctors from hospitals which prove that you have suffered physical or mental abuse directly from the crime. This can include photographs, affidavits, or letters. 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 for some case 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
Nevertheless, if you are applying from within or outside the U.S, you must get your petition approved from the USCIS in order to qualify for the U visa. You will receive a Form I-797, Notice of Action, just after your petition is approved by the USCIS, which you must attach to your documents. You will be requested to send biometric information to the USCIS or the Vermont Service Center. They require photographs as well as fingerprints.
How Long Does It Take to Process U Visa?
Since you send your application, it must be processed by the USCIS. Unfortunately, the processing time for a U visa is quite long. On average, the process from start to approval takes from one to one and a half years.
The processing time depends on many factors such as sending additional evidence or documents to USCIS.
How Long Is the U Visa Valid?
When you receive your U visa stamp in your passport, it can be valid for a maximum of 4 years. During your stay, you have the right to have a job and live in the U.S as a non-immigrant.
You can request an extension when your status is close to expiring from USCIS. You can get an extension by filing Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status. You must know that the extension for this particular visa is very difficult and it 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?
The short answer is yes. Since you obtained your U visa for a minimum of 3 years, you are eligible to apply for an adjustment of status. This means that you have the right to apply for a Green Card. You must also have complied with U.S law enforcement requests as well as have the U visa for 3 years in order to be eligible for U.S permanent residence. This means that you must show cooperation with the police regarding the crime you were involved in and not withheld anything.
Dependents and Family Visas (U-2, U-3, U-4, and U-5 visa)
As we previously mentioned in this article, under some circumstances you are allowed to bring your spouse, children, parents, and siblings with you in the U.S. After obtaining a U visa, you are allowed to 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 granted U dependents visa, they will also have the chance to file for work authorization and start employment. Remember, their EADs will not be granted automatically like in the case of the victim, they have to apply for them.
If you obtained a Green Card, your family members can also apply for the Green Card by filing Form I-929, Petition for Qualifying Family Members of U-1 Nonimmigrant. The petition must be filed for each member individually/