Have you been a victim of crime in the United States?
Humanitarian Visas for Crime Victims
OverviewVictims of crimes that occurred in the United States may qualify for a "U visa." The visa is available to victims and their family members when a law enforcement agency needs the victim's assistance to investigate or prosecute a crime that caused mental or physical harm. An immigration lawyer can help crime victims obtain a U visa as a pathway to obtaining a green card.
The U visa is meant to encourage crime victims who are not legal immigrants to report significant crimes to the police. Before the U visa program was created, crime victims often feared that they would be deported if they reported a crime.
EligibilityMost people who apply for a U visa entered the United States without appropriate documentation or overstayed a visa. It is also possible to apply for a U visa after leaving the country.
An individual is eligible to apply for a U visa if all of the following are true:
o The person applying for the U visa must be the victim of a qualifying crime. Most violent or threatening crimes are qualifying crimes, including sexual assault, domestic violence, stalking, abduction, forced participation in prostitution, and incest.
o The crime must have occurred in the United States, in a U.S. territory, or on a U.S. military base.
o The crime victim must have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse. Extreme fear is an example of substantial mental abuse.
o The crime victim must provide assistance with regard to the investigation and prosecution of the crime. Providing assistance might include reporting the crime, providing a description of the suspect to the police, cooperating with medical examinations, and testifying in court.
o The crime victim has not committed certain war crimes or acts of terror. For the most part, however, the victim's criminal history will not prevent a U visa from being granted.
Nonimmigrant StatusThe U visa is a nonimmigrant status visa. Nonimmigrant status means that the visa holder is admitted to the country temporarily. A U visa is valid for up to 4 years.
An applicant for a U visa can also apply for work authorization both before and after the U visa is granted. Since many U visa applicants are placed on a waiting list, having the ability to work in the United States allows applicants to support themselves while they wait for action to be taken on their visa application.
Permanent ResidenceWhile many people who hold a nonimmigrant status visa are required to leave the country before the visa expires, a crime victim who receives a U visa may petition the government for a green card. If the petition is granted, they will be entitled to permanent residence and work privileges in the United States.
A U visa holder can qualify for the green card by meeting all of the following conditions:
o Continuous physical presence in the United States for at least 3 years after being granted a U visa.
o Reasonable cooperation with the investigation and/or prosecution of the crime that resulted in issuance of the U visa.
o After being granted the U visa, the immigrant has not become inadmissible to the United States for reasons specified by law.
o Continued presence in the United States would serve a humanitarian purpose, would assure that a family stays together, or would be in the public interest.
Since the justification for remaining in the country is quite broad, it is helpful to work with an immigration lawyer to create a persuasive argument for the issuance of a green card.
U Visa ExamplesThe U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has issued 10,000 U visas each year during the past several years. Since the program began in 2009, more than 117,000 individuals have been granted a U visa.
Here are some examples of situations in which people have applied for U visas:
o A Mexican woman in Modesto, California was raped by her stepfather and taken to Mexico, where she had his baby. The woman reported the crime and applied for a U visa so that she could return to the United States with her baby and assist with the investigation of her sexual assault.
o A woman from El Salvador who lived in Los Angeles, California was granted a U visa after her husband repeatedly abused her and threatened her with a knife.
o A Sudanese woman who was a victim of human trafficking applied for a U visa in Detroit, Michigan.
o A woman from Mexico who lived in Salt Lake City, utah without documentation was granted a U visa after her baby's father was prosecuted for assaulting her.
o A Guatemalan woman in Bridgeport, Connecticut applied for a U visa after she was severely beaten by her husband.
o A man from Venezuela successfully received a U visa after he fell a victim of felonious assault in Newark, New Jersey.
o A man from Ukraine who lived in Brooklyn, New York fell a victim of fraud in foreign labor contracting and successfully received his U visa.
About half of all U visas are granted to victims of domestic violence crimes. An immigration attorney can advise crime victims whether they are likely to be granted a U visa after reviewing the specific circumstances of the crime. As a general rule, the more serious the crime is and the more assistance the victim provided, the more likely it is that a U visa will be granted.
ConclusionSince the number of people who apply for U visas exceeds the number that USCIS is authorized to grant each year, not everyone who might be eligible is granted a visa. An experienced immigration attorney can help crime victims make the strongest possible case for a humanitarian U visa that will allow them to remain in the United States legally.