Unfortunately, immigrants to the U.S. run a higher-than-average risk of being victims of human trafficking, domestic violence, and other types of abuse. This is especially true for undocumented immigrants and those whose visas have expired.
Frequently, witnesses and victims in these situations are afraid to call law enforcement out of fear of being deported.
Fortunately, there are legal options for immigrant victims of domestic violence, abuse, and other crimes. In particular, victims and witnesses to these crimes may apply for a U Nonimmigrant visa. This is a special visa that allows the victim to remain in the country for several years, provided that they assist law enforcement with their investigation. Additionally, U visa holders can apply for green cards after spending 3 years in the U.S. under the visa.
In this article, we’ll go over who qualifies for a U nonimmigrant visa. We’ll also talk about the various ways that a U visa differs from other types of nonimmigrant visa.
What is a U Nonimmigrant Visa?
Every year, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services issues up to 10,000 U visas to victims of certain crimes. In return, these individuals have to provide testimony or other information about the case to law enforcement.
Having such a visa allows these victims, and certain qualifying family members, to remain in the U.S. for up to four years (or longer, with an extension).
The U visa is a nonimmigrant class of visa. This means that it will eventually expire, usually after this four year period. However, during that time, a U visa holder counts as a lawful immigrant, and may apply for a green card if they so desire.
However, recently, the application process has started to take an increasingly long amount of time due to the limit on the amount of U visas that can be approved each year. As of writing this article, the application process generally takes between 4 and 5 years to complete in full.
In those 4-5 years, the person generally doesn’t have any legal immigrant status, so if they enter removal proceedings, or get into any other legal trouble, they’re generally at risk of deportation. In these cases, they must wait outside the U.S. until their U visa application is approved.
Additionally, USCIS has begun to refer U visa denials to the Department of Homeland Security in order to place individuals in removal proceedings. This means that if your visa application is denied, you may end up deported. For this reason, it’s important to discuss your case with an attorney first.
Who Qualifies for a U Nonimmigrant Visa?
In order to qualify for a U visa, you must meet several specific requirements:
- First, and most importantly, you have to have been a victim or witness to one of the crimes described below.
- You must have suffered “substantial physical or mental abuse” as a result of the crime, which you must be able to document.
- You must have information about the crime, and, further, provide this information to law enforcement. This is usually done when a judge or law enforcement officer files an I-918 Supplement B form on your behalf.
- If you would otherwise be inadmissible for a visa (due to criminal conviction, immigration law violations, or certain health conditions) you must submit an admissibility waiver. Unlike other classes of immigrant, you will not have to demonstrate extreme hardship to have your admissibility requirement waived.
Which Crimes Are Covered?
Victims or witnesses to the following crimes can all qualify for U visas:
- Abduction, kidnapping, and false imprisonment.
- Blackmail, extortion, and certain types of fraud.
- Domestic violence, stalking, and related crimes.
- Human trafficking and any form of slavery.
- Prostitution or sexual exploitation.
- Sexual crimes, including but not limited to sexual assault, incest, or female genital mutilation.
- Other violent crimes, such as manslaughter, murder, or torture.
- Obstruction of justice, including witness tampering.
Victims of offenses related to these may also apply for U visas. If you aren’t sure whether or not you qualify, you should seek out an attorney who can help answer your questions.
Additionally, some victims of human trafficking also qualify for T nonimmigrant status instead of a U visa. In general, victims of labor or sex trafficking should work with their lawyers to apply for T status. Victims of other kinds of human trafficking should instead apply for a U visa if they wish to remain in the U.S.
Can My Family Remain in the United States with Me?
A U visa allows certain members of your immediate family to remain in the country with you. However, they can only do so if you file for a derivative visa for each family member. Qualifying family members will vary based on your age:
- If you are over 21, only your spouse and children will qualify.
- If you are under 21, your spouse, children, and parents will all qualify. Additionally, if you have any unmarried siblings under the age of 18, they will also qualify.
How Can I Petition for a U Nonimmigrant Visa?
If you are considering applying for any type of visa, it is a good idea to consult an immigration lawyer. This is particularly true when it comes to petitioning for a U nonimmigrant visa. By working closely with an immigration lawyer before you begin the application process, you can lower your chances of experiencing confusion or trouble with law enforcement.
After contacting law enforcement, your lawyer can help you complete and file an I-918 petition, along with supporting evidence. He or she can also assist you in obtaining an I-918 Supplement B form from the law enforcement agency. Finally, you may need to file for an admissibility waiver, as described above. Once this is all done, USCIS will review your petition and determine your new visa status.
As one final note, you can still apply for a U nonimmigrant visa even if you are currently living outside the country. If you do so, you will be required to enter the U.S. through consular processing.
The U nonimmigrant visa is a powerful protective option for both victims of crimes and law enforcement. If you’ve suffered from any kind of abuse since arriving in the United States, don’t hesitate. Contact a reputable lawyer as soon as you can do so safely.
A discreet and trustworthy attorney can help you complete your application and contact law enforcement at the correct time. This will greatly reduce your risk of deportation and allow you to retain control of your case.