ALL ABOUT U:
A Special Visa for Crime Victims
What is a U visa?
The U visa (also called “U nonimmigrant status”) is intended for victims of crimes who have suffered substantial mental or physical abuse, and who are willing to assist law enforcement and government officials in the investigation or prosecution such crimes.
What benefits come from having a U visa?
A U visa allows you to temporarily live and work legally in the United States. An Employment Authorization Document is included with all approved U visa petitions, which can be used to obtain a social security number which allows you to work in the U.S.
Why does the U visa exist?
Congress created the U nonimmigrant visa in October 2000 when it passed the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act. The legislation was intended to help law enforcement agencies investigate and prosecute cases of domestic violence, sexual assault, trafficking of aliens and other crimes (see list below), to offer protection to victims of such crimes, and to enable law enforcement agencies to better serve these crime victims.
Who issues U visas?
United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is the branch of the U.S. government that issues U visas in the U.S. The Department of State (DOS) is the branch of the government responsible for issuing U visas abroad.
What makes you eligible for a U visa?
You may be eligible for nonimmigrant U status if you are an alien and:
• You have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of having been a victim of a crime
• You have information concerning that criminal activity;
• You have been, or are being, or could be, helpful in the investigation or prosecution of the crime; AND
• The crime violated a law of the United States or occurred in the United States.
What information about the crime does the victim have to know to get a U visa?
USCIS will consider a crime victim to possess information about a crime if they have knowledge of the details (i.e., specific facts) concerning the crime that would assist in its investigation or prosecution.
What does it mean to be “Helpful” in the investigation or prosecution of the crime, for U visa purposes?
It means actively helping law enforcement authorities in the investigation or prosecution of the crime that victimized the alien. To be eligible for a U visa, a crime victim has a continuing responsibility to provide assistance as needed.
What kinds of crimes count for U visa purposes?
You might be eligible for U nonimmigrant status if you suffered substantial physical or mental abuse from any of the following crimes (or other related crimes):
• Abusive Sexual Contact
• Domestic Violence
• False Imprisonment
• Genital Female Mutilation
• Felonious Assault
• Involuntary Servitude
• Kidnapping Manslaughter
• Obstruction of Justice
• Sexual Assault
• Sexual Exploitation
• Slave Trader
• Witness Tampering
• Unlawful Criminal Restraint
Can you still be eligible for a U visa if you have been ordered removed or deported from the United States?
Yes. If you were the victim of a crime, you can still get a U visa if you have been ordered removed/deported. But once the U visa is approved you will either need to file a motion to reopen the removal/deportation order with the immigration court, or, if you are about to be ordered removed/deported, you must file for a stay.
How do you get a U visa?
If you qualify for nonimmigrant U status, you can file a Form I-918 (Petition for U Nonimmigrant Status). The Form I-918 requests information to determine if you are eligible for the U visa and admissible to the United States.
How much does USCIS charge to file for a U visa?
Nothing. Unlike other visa applications, USCIS does not charge a fee to file a Form I-918. USCIS has waived its usual petition fee in these cases to reflect the humanitarian purposes of the law. And if you can’t afford to file other forms associated with a U visa, you can request a waiver from USCIS of those fees, too, by submitting a Form I-912 (Request for Fee Waiver).
Couldn’t people just pretend they were crime victim to get a U visa?
Not really. It’s not that easy. All form I-918 petitions for U nonimmigrant status must contain a “certification of helpfulness” demonstrating you have been helpful, are being helpful, or could be helpful in the investigation or prosecution of the criminal activity. This certification has to come from a federal, state or local law enforcement agency (or from prosecutors, judges or other authorities that investigate or prosecute crimes). Other government agencies that handle criminal investigations (like child protective services, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the Department of Labor) can also issue the “certification of helpfulness.”
How long does a U visa allow you to stay in the United States?
Initially, 4 years. But extensions are available if the relevant law enforcement or other agency certifies that your presence in the U.S. is needed to help investigate or prosecute a crime. Also, after 3 years, you may be eligible to file for a Green Card (see below).
Can you apply for a U visa even if you live outside of the United States?
Yes. You can petition for nonimmigrant U status either inside or outside the United States.
What if you’re not admissible to enter the United States?
An otherwise inadmissible U visa applicant must first obtain a waiver of inadmissibility by filing a Form I-192 (Application for Advance Permission to Enter as a Non-Immigrant).
Is there a limit on the number of people who can get a U visa?
Yes. Only 10,000 nonimmigrant U visas are granted each fiscal year (October 1 through September 30). This limit doesn’t apply to derivative family members (spouses, children or other qualifying family members) who are accompanying or joining foreign crime victim.
What happens if the cap is reached before your application is considered?
USCIS creates a waiting list that provides a way for crime victims cooperating with law enforcement agencies to stabilize their immigration status. If you’re on the waiting list, you can apply for employment authorization or travel until your petition can be adjudicated after the start of the following fiscal year.
Can family members of the crime victim stay in the United States, too?
Yes. In certain cases, family members accompanying the crime victim can get a “derivative” U visa, but not on their own: the crime victim must file, on behalf of their family members, a Form I-918, Supplement A (Petition for Qualifying Family Member of U-1 Recipient).
Why are the U visas of the crime victim’s family members called “derivatives”?
The crime victim who was issued the U visa is called the “U-1 status holder” or the “U-1 principal” and, their family members are said to have “derivative” status (because their status is derived from the crime victim–the U-1 principal).
Can everyone related to the crime victim stay with them in the United States?
No. The age of the crime victim limits which family members can stay here on a derivative U visa: if the crime victim is under 21, then they can petition on behalf of their spouse, child, parent and any unmarried sibling under 18 years of age. If the crime victim is 21 or older, they can petition only on behalf of their spouse or child.
If you get a U visa, can you later apply for a Green Card?
Yes, as long as certain requirements have been filled. The crime victim must have been physically present in the United for a continuous period of at least 3 years since admitted as a U nonimmigrant and they must not have unreasonably refused to provide assistance to law enforcement after receiving their U visa. Also, the same agency that certifies the crime gets to determine if the crime victim’s staying in the U.S. is justified (on humanitarian grounds to ensure a cohesive family) or is otherwise in the national or public interest.
Can family members of a crime victim with a U visa apply for their own Green Card?
Yes. Family members of a crime victim who received a U visa may be eligible for to apply for their own Green Card.
How do family members of a crime victim get a Green Card if they have a derivative U visa?
Family members with derivative U visas may apply for Green Cards (by filing a Form I-485 (Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status) if the crime victim with the principal U visa met the eligibility requirements for permanent residence and the crime victim’s application for adjustment of status was approved, is pending, or is filed at the same time.
Can family members of the crime victim get a Green Card even if they never had a derivative U visa?
Yes. Even if members of the crime victim’s family were never issued derivative U visas, USCIS can still offer them Green Cards if they–or the crime victim–would suffer “extreme hardship” if they weren’t allowed to stay in (or be admitted to) the United States.
How do family members who never had derivative U visas apply for a Green Card?
A family member who has never held a derivative U nonimmigrant visa cannot apply for a Green Card on their own: the crime victim must file a Form I-929 (Petition for Qualifying Family Member of a U-1 Nonimmigrant) on their behalf, concurrently or subsequent to the crime victim filing his/her own Form I-485 (Application for Adjustment of Status).
Is there a charge to file a Form I-929?
Yes. But if you are unable to pay the filing fee, you may submit a Form I-912 (Request for Fee Waiver).
What happens to the family member when an I-929 is approved?
Approval of the I-929 petition doesn’t confer any status upon the family member (the beneficiary) or grant them employment authorization. Approval only makes the beneficiary eligible to apply for adjustment of status. If the Form I-929 is approved, qualifying family members in the United States may file a Form I-485. Qualifying family members outside the United States may visit a U.S. embassy or consulate to obtain their immigrant visas.
Is there a limit on the number of I-929 beneficiaries who can be approved?
No. There is no limit on the number of 1-929 beneficiaries.
Can the crime victim petition for all their family members to get a Green Card?
No, only the spouse, children, and parents (if the crime victim is under 21) of a crime victim with U status are eligible. The crime victim cannot petition for their siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, nieces or nephews, etc. to get Green Cards.
When should a crime victim petition for their family members’ Green Cards?
The crime victim with a U visa can petition for their family members’ Green Cards at the same time he or she files Form I-485 or any time afterwards.
Can a family member file their Form I-485 concurrently with the Form I-929?
No. Only the crime victim (the U-1 principal) can file their Form I-485 concurrently with the Form I-929.
Can the Form I-929 be approved before the crime victim’s I-485 is approved?
No. The crime victim’s I-485 must be approved before the I-929 can be approved. If the petitioner’s Form I-485 is denied, the Form I-929 will automatically be denied.
Do I need an attorney to help me file for a U visa, or any forms associated with the U visa (like an I-485 or I-929).
While a crime victim can file for a U visa without the help of an attorney, many if not most people find that an experienced attorney is necessary to help them successfully navigate through the complex and complicated U visa petition process.
Does Root Law Group have experience in helping crime victims file for U visas?
Yes. Root Law Group, a law firm people recognize and trust with all their immigration needs, has helped countless crime victims stay in the United States through U visa status. Visit Root Law Group online at www.RootLaw.com or call them now at 1-888-766-8529 to schedule an appointment for a FREE office consultation.