Immigration Options for Victims of Crimes: U-Visa
Topics on this page:
- What is the U-Visa? 
- How do I know if I am eligible for the 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? 
The U-Visa is a form of immigration relief for victims of certain criminal activities and is implemented as a tool to aid law enforcement in identifying perpetrators and aiding victims. The U-Visa grants a temporary 4 year stay for holders with some holders eventually qualifying for lawful permanent residency.
United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issues 10,000 U-visas annually, which has created a substantial backlog of visa petitions. The main objective of the visa is to encourage undocumented victims of crimes to assist law enforcement in their investigation and prosecution crimes without the fear of deportation.
The U-Visa grants a temporary 4 year stay. Not all visa holders will qualify for lawful permanent residence (Green Card); U-visa holders who are applying for lawful permanent residency must show:
- They 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 application for adjustment of status.
- They have not unreasonably refused to provide assistance in the criminal investigation or prosecution
- They are not inadmissible under section 212(a)(3)(E) of the Immigration Nationality Act
- They establish their presence in the United States is justified on humanitarian grounds, to ensure family unity or is in the public interest
Only 10,000 U-Visas are granted annually. There is a large backlog of petitions, due to the Congressional cap of 10,000 visas per year. Applicants can receive conditional approval, where they receive work authorization while they wait for an available U-Visa.
An applicant for the U-visa must submit a certification form (Form I-918 Supplement B) signed by a designated law enforcement officer, judge, or prosecutor. This certification certifies that the applicant is a victim of a qualifying criminal activity, and has been, is being, or is likely to be helpful in the detection, investigation, prosecution, conviction or sentencing of the criminal activity.
1. Qualifying Criminal Activity
In order to be eligible for the U-Visa, you must have been a victim of 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
An applicant can be either a direct or an indirect victim in order to be eligible. A direct victim is an individual who experienced substantial physical or mental harm as a result of the qualifying criminal activity. An indirect victim can be certain family members of direct victims where the direct victim is either deceased due to manslaughter or murder, or is incompetent or incapacitated and therefore not able to give information concerning the qualifying criminal activity (i.e. the parent of a child who was the victim of a qualifying criminal activity).
Qualifying family members include a spouse or children under 21 years of age if the direct victim is over 21; and parents and unmarried siblings under 18 years of age if the direct victim is under 21 years old.
The applicant must show that they have been helpful, are being helpful, or are likely to be helpful in the future to law enforcement in the reporting, investigation or prosecution of the crime. The applicant must possess information about the crime and
3. Proof of Harm
The applicant needs to have suffered mental or physical harm as a result of the qualifying criminal activity.
The U-visa grants recipient’s lawful temporary status in the United States for 4 years and work authorization. A U-visa may be extended if certified by law enforcement if it is required for the U-visa holder’s continued assistance in the investigation or prosecution; or due to exceptional circumstances. In addition, some U-visa holders will qualify for Lawful Permanent Residence status (Green Card) and eventual citizenship. A U-visa holder can apply for a Green Card if the holder has:
- Maintained continuous presence in the U.S. for 3 years;
- Complied with reasonable requests to cooperate in investigation or prosecution;
- Good moral character; and
- Is admissible or qualifies for a waiver of inadmissibility
Being granted a U-visa also grants limited access to public benefits to the recipient. Which benefits that are available to a U-visa recipient is dependent on the state in which the recipient lives. In Maryland, the following benefits may be available to a recipient:
- Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF)
- Post-Assault Healthcare for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault
- In-state tuition rates
- TANF funded childcare
U-visa holders also have access to services not considered public benefits that are open to all immigrants. These include: Life and Safety Services, Transitional Housing, Emergency Medicaid, Healthcare from HHS-funded Community Clinics and Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).
The U-visa has been capped at 10,000 a year, a current backlog at DHS in issuing visas to individuals who have had their applications approved. An individual who has been approved for the U-visa can still receive work authorization while they wait for their U-visa to be issued.
U visa holders are not “qualified immigrants” and are thus not eligible to receive federal public benefits or federal means-tested public benefits. This includes: FAFSA, Public and Assisted Housing, Food Stamps, Medicaid
In order to apply for a U-Visa, the victim of the qualifying crime must submit the following:
- Form I-918: Petition for U Nonimmigrant Status 
- Form I-918, Supplement B, U Nonimmigrant Status Certification, which must be signed by an authorized official of the certifying law enforcement agency confirming that the applicant was helpful, is currently being helpful, or will likely be helpful in the investigation or prosecution of the case in the future.
- If any inadmissibility issues are present, the applicant must file a Form I-192, Application for Advance Permission to Enter as Nonimmigrant, to request a waiver of the inadmissibility;
- A personal statement describing the criminal activity of which the applicant was a victim; and
- Evidence to establish each eligibility requirement.
The National Immigrant Women's Advocacy Project compiles a list of providers that can assist potential applicants.