Immigration Options for Victims of Crimes: U Visa
Topics on this page:
- What is U nonimmigrant status (U Visa)?
- Who is eligible for U Visa?
- What are the Benefits of the U Visa?
- What are the Limitations of the U Visa?
- How do I apply for the U Visa?
- Applying for a Green Card
What is U nonimmigrant status (U Visa)?
The U nonimmigrant status (U visa) is a legal status reserved for victims of certain crimes who have suffered mental or physical abuse and are helpful to law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of the crime. The U visa legal status is intended to protect victims of crime and strengthen the ability of law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute cases of domestic violence, sexual assault, trafficking of noncitizens and other crimes.
Read the Law: U.S. Code, Title 22 § 7501
Who is eligible for the U Visa?
To be eligible for the U visa, you must meet the following requirements:
- You are the victim of qualifying criminal activity that occurred in the U.S. or violated U.S. law.
- You have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse because of having been a victim of the criminal activity.
- You have information about the criminal activity.
- You were helpful, are helpful, or are likely to be helpful to law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of the crime.
- You are admissible to the United States.
Victims applying for U visas are not required to be in legal immigration status.
What is a “Qualifying Criminal Activity?”
- Qualifying criminal activities include:
- Abusive Sexual Conduct
- 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
- Witness Tampering
- Unlawful Criminal Restraint
What is Helpfulness?
To qualify for U visa, you must have information about the qualifying criminal activity and be willing to help law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of the crime. There are many ways to show helpfulness. For example, you may have contacted the police and alerted them to the crime or filed charges against the perpetrator. You may also demonstrate your willingness to assist by testifying in court, or been willing to testify, against the accused.
What is Admissibility?
Individuals seeking to lawfully enter the U.S. must establish their admissibility. This is done as part of the inspection process by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers. Individuals applying for admission to the U.S. may be deemed inadmissible based on health, criminal activity, national security, public charge, lack of labor certification, fraud and misrepresentation, prior removals, or unlawful presence in the U.S.
Grounds for inadmissibility can be found in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). If you are not admissible, you may apply for a waiver on a Form I-192 (Application for Advance Permission to Enter as a Nonimmigrant).
What are the benefits of the U Visa?
Eligibility for work authorization and a social security number – You will be provided employment authorization which will allow you to work lawfully while you are in U nonimmigrant status. This work authorization is available to you once you are issued a Bona Fide Determination (BFD) or are placed on the waitlist. A “bona fide” determination is issued if an initial review of the U Visa application demonstrates the application was complete and properly filed and a criminal background check does not raise any national security, public safety, or other concerns. Once the U petitioner is granted U status, they will also receive authorization to work lawfully while they remain in U status.
Pathway to Lawful Permanent Resident Status – You may apply for lawful permanent residence (Green Card) after having a U visa for 3 years.
Eligibility of family members to apply for a U visa – You can include your spouse and children (unmarried and under age 21) as derivatives on your U visa petition. If you are under 21 years old at the you can also include your parents and unmarried siblings under 18 years of age.
Protection from deportation – U visa holders have legal status and will not be placed in removal proceedings unless they commit crimes or immigration violations after the U visa grant.
What are the limitations of the U Visa?
It is temporary - A U visa is only valid for 4 years and cannot be renewed. However, extensions are available in if the extension is:
- Needed based on a request from law enforcement,
- Needed based on exceptional circumstances,
- Needed due to delays in consular processing
A U visa can also be automatically extended upon the filing and processing of an application for a Green Card.
There are a limited number of U visas available – There is an annual limit of 10,000 U visas. This limit means that you might have to wait awhile before they are able to obtain a U visa. Once the annual cap has been reached, if you are eligible for a U visa, you will be placed on a waitlist and may apply for work authorization while waiting for a visa to become available.
There is no cap for family members deriving status from the principal applicant, such as spouses, children, or other eligible family members.
You may not be able to travel abroad – U visa holders who have previously been in the United States without permission for more than 180 days risk being unable to re-enter the country and having complications during their Green Card application process.
Your criminal history or violations of immigration laws may cause complications – Applicants will have to disclose their criminal and immigration history in the process of applying for a U visa. While applicants for the U visa can apply for generous waivers of many activities that violate immigration laws, including crimes, an immigration representative should be consulted prior to the submission of the application.
U visa holders are not “qualified immigrants” – U visa recipients are not eligible to receive federal public benefits or federal means-tested public benefits. This includes: FAFSA, Public and Assisted Housing, Food Stamps, and Medicaid.
How do I apply for the U Visa?
All applications for immigration benefits involve completing forms and submitting documents. For U visa, you will need to submit Form I-918 (Petition for U Nonimmigrant Status). As part of your petition, you will need to provide evidence that you meet the qualifications for a U visa. The required evidence that you must submit includes:
- Evidence you are the victim of qualifying criminal activity;
- Evidence you have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse;
- Evidence you possess information concerning criminal activity, and that the criminal activity is qualifying and violated United States law or occurred in the United States;
- Evidence you have been, are being, or are likely to be helpful to a certifying official in the investigation or prosecution of qualifying criminal activity;
- A personal statement;
You must also submit a completed Form I-918, Supplement B. The Supplement must be signed by an authorized official of the certifying law enforcement agency and the official must confirm that you were helpful, and currently being helpful, or will likely be helpful in the investigation or prosecution of the case.
USCIS will give significant weight to the Supplement B as evidence demonstrating that you are a victim. The Supplement also shows that:
- you possess information about the criminal activity;
- that the criminal activity occurred in or violated the laws of the U.S: and,
- that you were, are, or are likely to be helpful in the investigation or prosecution of the crime.
If you submit any documents in a foreign language, you must include a full English translation along with a certification from the translator verifying that the translation is complete and accurate, and that they are competent to translate from the foreign language to English.
The National Immigrant Women's Advocacy Project compiles a list of providers that can assist potential applicants.
Applying for a Green Card
U.S. immigration law allows noncitizens who have been victims of certain crimes and granted U nonimmigrant status (U visa) to become lawful permanent residents (get a Green Card). To qualify for a Green Card as a crime victim, you must have U nonimmigrant status and meet the following eligibility requirements:
- You were lawfully admitted under U nonimmigrant status.
- You are in U nonimmigrant status at the time you file application for a Green Card.
- You have been physically present in the United States for a continuous period of at least 3 years since the first date of admission as a U nonimmigrant and continue to hold that status at the time of your Green Card application.
- You have provided assistance in the criminal investigation or prosecution of the crime
- You are admissible under section 212(a)(3)(E) of the Immigration Nationality Act
- You establish that your presence in the United States is justified on humanitarian grounds, to ensure family unity, or is in the public interest
To apply for a Green Card, you must file Form I-485 (Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status). You will need to submit documents and evidence to support your application. There is a fee to file your application.