What is a U Visa?
A U visa is a type of non-immigrant visa available to individuals who are victims of certain crimes and who cooperate with law enforcement in the investigation and prosecution of those crimes. The U visa was created by the United States Congress in 2000 to encourage undocumented immigrants who are victims of crime to come forward and assist law enforcement without fear of deportation.
To be eligible for a U visa, an individual must have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of being a victim of a qualifying crime, 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 the investigation and prosecution of the crime.
If approved, the individual with legal status in the United States for up to four years. After three years of being in U visa status, the individual may be eligible to apply for a green card (lawful permanent residence) if certain requirements are met.
Who qualifies for a U visa?
To qualify for a U visa, you must meet several criteria, including:
- You must have been the victim of a qualifying crime: You must have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of being a victim of a qualifying crime, such as domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, or other violent crimes.
- You must have information about the crime: You must have information about the crime and be willing to assist law enforcement in the investigation and prosecution of the crime.
- You must have been helpful, are being helpful, or are likely to be helpful: You must be able to demonstrate that you have been helpful, are being helpful, or are likely to be helpful to law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of the crime.
- You must have been a victim of a crime that occurred in the United States or violated U.S. laws: The crime must have occurred in the United States or violated U.S. laws.
- You must be admissible to the United States: You must not have committed any crimes or immigration violations that would make you inadmissible to the United States.
- You must have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of the crime: The abuse must have been substantial, meaning that it was severe or extreme, and it must have had a significant impact on your life.
If you meet these criteria, you may be eligible. However, it is important to note that the process can be complex, and it is highly recommended that you consult with an experienced immigration attorney for assistance with your application.
What crimes will qualify me for a U visa?
The following is a non-exhaustive list of qualifying crimes for U visas:
- Abusive Sexual Contact
- Domestic Violence
- False Imprisonment
- Female Genital Mutilation
- Felonious Assault
- Fraud in Foreign Labor Contracting
- Involuntary Servitude
- Obstruction of Justice
- Sexual Assault
- Sexual Exploitation
- Slave Trade
- Unlawful Criminal Restraint
- Witness Tampering
- Other Related Crimes
It is important to note that not all crimes will qualify , and each case is evaluated on its own merits. Additionally, it is important to show that the crime was reported to law enforcement and that the victim is cooperating with law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of the crime.
How do I apply for a U Visa?
To apply for a U visa, you will need to submit the following forms and evidence:
- Form I-918, Petition for U Nonimmigrant Status: This is the primary form you will need to complete and submit to USCIS. You will need to include biographical information, details about the crime(s) you were a victim of, and evidence of your cooperation with law enforcement.
- Form I-918, Supplement B, U Nonimmigrant Status Certification: This form must be completed by a law enforcement official who can certify that you have been helpful, are being helpful, or are likely to be helpful in the investigation or prosecution of the crime.
- Personal statement: You should include a personal statement describing the crime(s) you were a victim of, the impact it had on your life, and how you have cooperated with law enforcement.
- Supporting evidence: You should include any supporting evidence you have, such as police reports, court documents, medical records, and any other evidence that can help support your case.
There is no filing fee for Form I-918, Petition for U Nonimmigrant Status.
Once you have completed the forms and gathered the necessary evidence, you should mail your application to the USCIS lockbox facility designated for applications. The address and filing instructions can be found on the USCIS website. It is important to note that U visa applications can take several months or even years to process, and you should be prepared for a lengthy wait. Additionally, it is highly recommended that you consult with an experienced immigration attorney to assist you with your application.
Can I still qualify for a U visa with a criminal or immigration record?
For individuals who are inadmissible and wish to apply for a waiver, you may use Form I-192, Application for Advance Permission to Enter as a Nonimmigrant. This form is used to request a waiver of inadmissibility for certain grounds, including criminal convictions or immigration violations.
If you have a criminal conviction or immigration violation in your past and you are applying for a U visa, you may need to file Form I-192 in addition to your U visa application. You will need to provide evidence of your rehabilitation and reasons why you should be granted a waiver of inadmissibility.
It’s important to note that each case is unique, and whether or not you need to file Form I-192 will depend on the specific details of your situation. It may be helpful to consult with an experienced immigration attorney to determine your eligibility and whether any additional forms or evidence are required in your case.
Can my family members qualify for U visa status?
Yes, you may include certain family members on your U visa application. The following family members may be included:
- Spouse: Your current spouse or a former spouse if the marriage was terminated due to the abusive situation.
- Children: Your unmarried children who are under 21 years old, including stepchildren and children born out of wedlock.
- Parents: If you are under 21 years old, your parents may be included on your U visa application.
It is important to note that family members who are included on your U visa application must also be victims of the same crime(s) that you were a victim of, and they must meet other eligibility requirements. Additionally, each family member must have their own Form I-918, Supplement A, Application for Family Member of U-1 Recipient, filed on their behalf.
When filing for family members, you should submit evidence that they are related to you and that they meet the eligibility requirements. This evidence may include birth certificates, marriage certificates, and any other relevant documents. If your family members are outside the United States, they may need to undergo consular processing to obtain their U visas.
It is highly recommended that you consult with an experienced immigration attorney to assist you with including family members on your application.
What are the current U visa processing times?
U visa processing times can vary greatly depending on various factors, including the volume of applications received by USCIS, the complexity of your case, and any additional administrative processing required. Generally, it can take several months or even years for USCIS to process a U visa application.
As of March 2023, USCIS estimated that it takes approximately 5.5 years for the agency to process a U visa application. However, this is just an estimate, and actual processing times can vary. Additionally, USCIS gives priority to U visa applicants who are in removal proceedings or have a final removal order, so these cases may be processed more quickly.
According to USCIS data released in December 2021, approximately 269,000 U visa applications were pending with USCIS. This includes both principal applicants and their family members.
It is important to note that U visa applicants are eligible for work authorization while their U visa applications are pending, which can help alleviate some of the financial and practical challenges that come with a lengthy wait.
It’s important to note that the number of pending U visa applications can fluctuate over time based on various factors, including the number of applications received, USCIS processing times, and changes in immigration policies and regulations. If you have submitted an application and are waiting for a decision, it is important to stay informed about the latest developments and processing times and to consult with an experienced immigration attorney if you have questions or concerns.
Does a U visa lead to a green card?
Yes, obtaining a U visa can potentially lead to obtaining a green card (lawful permanent residency) in the United States, under certain circumstances. After holding a U visa for at least three years, a U visa holder may be eligible to apply for adjustment of status to lawful permanent residency.
- To be eligible for adjustment of status, the U visa holder must meet certain requirements, including:
- Continuing to meet the eligibility requirements for the U visa, including having suffered substantial physical or mental abuse because of the qualifying criminal activity.
- Being admissible to the United States, means they do not have any grounds of inadmissibility that would prevent them from being granted lawful permanent residency.
- Having maintained continuous physical presence in the United States for the three years immediately preceding the adjustment of status application.
Not having unreasonably refused to cooperate with law enforcement authorities in the investigation or prosecution of the qualifying criminal activity.
If the U visa holder meets all these requirements and is granted lawful permanent residency, they will be able to live and work in the United States permanently and may be eligible for other benefits such as the ability to sponsor certain family members for immigration to the United States. If you are in deportation proceedings, please visit our page here.
It’s important to note that the process of obtaining a green card through a U visa can be complex and may require the assistance of an experienced immigration attorney. Additionally, not all may be eligible for adjustment of status, and each case will be evaluated on its merits.