U Visa for Victims of Criminal Activity

Picture U.S. Citizenship paperwork that immigration attorney helps complete

In the United States, a U visa is a type of visa available to undocumented immigrants who are victims of certain serious crimes and have assisted, assist, or will assist law enforcement with any subsequent investigation. The U visa was created when the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act was passed in 2000. The U visa was created to encourage undocumented immigrant victims of violent crimes to report these crimes to law enforcement without a fear of deportation.

A U visa recipient is permitted to stay in the country for four years and after three years, U visa holders can apply for a green card. U visa holders (and eligible applicants) also get authorization to work in the U.S.

Immigrants who wish to file a petition for a U visa must submit Form I-918 to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), along with ample evidence to prove eligibility. This article provides information about U visa eligibility and the application process, along with answers to frequently asked questions.

While this article will help you better understand all that goes into the process of securing a U visa, the process is complicated, and each individual’s case is unique. Therefore, it’s important to seek the help of an immigration attorney. Your initial consultation is free and immigration document preparation cases are offered on a flat rate to make it as affordable as possible for you and your family.

Who is eligible for a U visa?

Requirements

There are certain legal requirements you must meet in order to be eligible for a U visa, including:

  • a crime requirement (you must have been the victim of certain types of serious crimes which occurred in the United States),
  • a harm requirement (you must have been hurt, physically or mentally, because of the crime),
  • a knowledge requirement (you must have important information regarding the crime), and
  • a helpfulness requirement (you must have been, are or will be helpful to the police or law enforcement).

These requirements are broken down in more detail below.

It’s important to note that you do not have to have immigration papers to be eligible for a U visa; it’s OK to apply if you don’t have papers or if yours have expired.

Crime requirement

The U visa is for individuals who have been the victim of certain serious crimes. You will have to provide details about the crime you experienced and proof that it occurred in the application. Also, the crime must have occurred in the United States, or violated U.S. law, to count.

Examples of qualifying crimes include, but are not limited to:

  • Violent crimes like domestic abuse, stalking, torture, a shooting, stabbing or mugging, or a home invasion.
  • Sex crimes like rape, incest, sexual assault, sex trafficking, forced prostitution and female genital mutilation.
  • Enslavement crimes like kidnapping, indentured servitude (being forced to do work you do not want to do), slavery and false imprisonment.
  • Obstruction of justice crimes like witness tampering and withholding evidence.
  • Domestic violence.

The crime does not have to be completed in order to count; an attempt or conspiracy to commit a qualifying crime can be enough. Keep in mind that each state, including Colorado, has its own way of labeling and defining criminal offenses. An attorney can help you determine whether the crime you experienced is a qualifying crime and how to define it on your application.

Harm requirement

To qualify for a U visa, you must have suffered physical or mental harm, or both. Evidence becomes critical when proving that you were hurt; you must show that you suffered “substantial” physical or mental pain as a result of the crime against you. Your attorney can help you determine whether your injury, or injuries, will qualify as substantial. An attorney can also help you compile evidence to show you were hurt if you didn’t seek the help of a doctor for your injuries following the crime.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to still be injured in order to apply for a U visa, i.e., if you were hurt as a result of the crime, but have since healed, you can still apply.

Helpfulness requirement

One of the reasons the U.S. government began offering the U visa is because immigrants are often reluctant to report crimes against them, thus allowing criminals to remain unpunished and making immigrants, particularly those who are undocumented, vulnerable targets for criminals. So, one of the key requirements for U visa eligibility is the helpfulness requirement.

This means that, in addition to having suffered harm as the result of a serious crime, you must have been helpful in the past, are currently being helpful or will be helpful to law enforcement in the future. In fact, your petition must be certified by a law enforcement official, like a police offer, to prove that the crime happened and that you have been, or will be helpful in the investigation.

Being helpful can mean that you reported the crime immediately after it happened by calling 911. Or it can mean being prepared to do things like identify your attacker in a lineup or testify at a trial. It doesn’t matter if the person who committed the crime is never found or convicted, so long as you helped law enforcement.

Direct and indirect victims

You don’t have to be the direct victim of a crime to qualify for a U visa. You can also be eligible for a U visa if you were the indirect victim of a crime. For example, if someone harmed your family member and you suffered mental distress as a result.

Take a more specific example: a woman’s son was murdered. While he, obviously, will not be able to apply for a U visa, his mother can apply for one because the emotional trauma she endured as a result of the crime could be considered substantial harm. She is the indirect victim of the crime.

Family members

Certain family members may be eligible to receive a derivative U visa if you, the principal petitioner, are approved. To apply for family members, you will complete and submit Supplement A along with Form I-918 or after your U visa is approved.

Family members eligible for a derivative U visa include the following.

If the victim is under the age of 21:

  • The victim’s parents.
  • The victim’s legally married spouse (note that you must have been married at the time you submit your U visa application for your spouse to be eligible).
  • The victim’s unmarried children who are under the age of 18.
  • The victim’s unmarried siblings who are under the age of 18.

If the victim is over the age of 21:

  • The victim’s legally married spouse (note that you must have been married at the time you submit your U visa application for your spouse to be eligible).
  • The victim’s unmarried children who are under the age of 18.

Keep in mind that derivative family members must be “admissible” to the United States (or apply for a waiver) and have good moral character.

For information from USCIS on consular processing for derivative family members who are in another country, click here.

Applying for a U visa

To apply for a U visa, eligible immigrants must complete and submit USCIS Form I-918, Petition for U Nonimmigrant Status.

In addition to submitting Form I-918, you’ll also include the following:

  • Form I-918 Supplement A, Petition for Qualifying Family Member (if you would like to include any derivative family members).
  • Form I-918 Supplement B, U Nonimmigrant Status Certification. A qualifying agency – meaning the law enforcement agency with whom you are assisting the investigation into the crime against you – must complete this document. This is a required and critical part of your application because it certifies that you have been the victim of a qualifying crime and that you are being helpful to law enforcement.
  • A Waiver of Grounds of Inadmissibility, if applicable. This is a separate form, Form I-192, Application for Advance Permission to Enter as a Nonimmigrant. An attorney can help you determine whether you need to include this application. While there is no fee required for the U visa application itself, you will need to submit a fee of $930 (as of November 2017) with the waiver. This can be paid with a check or money order. Do not send cash. If you can’t afford the filing fee, your attorney can assist you in filing a fee waiver request.
  • A personal statement and ample evidence to back up the crime and harm requirements (see the section below for examples of types of evidence). The personal statement is your written account of what happened, including a description of the crime against you and the harm it caused for you and how you have been helpful to law enforcement.
  • Identity documents, like a passport or a birth certificate. If you’re submitting Supplement A, you’ll need to include documentation that proves the relationship between yourself and any derivative relatives.
  • For any derivative relatives who wish to work, you’ll have to also submit an application for employment authorization (Form I-765) for those individuals. No work permit application is necessary for the principal petitioner, however.

Types of evidence

As we discussed previously, to be eligible for a U visa, there is a crime requirement, a harm requirement, a knowledge requirement and a helpfulness requirement; applicants should be prepared to supply evidence – like police and court records, letters from friends and family and letters from doctors and mental health professionals – with their application to help prove that they meet these requirements.

Your attorney will know which items will be the most useful for your case, but here are some examples of the types of evidence you’ll include.

Crime requirement evidence

  • Police report
  • Court records
  • Newspaper articles
  • An order of protection
  • Record of any 911 calls

Harm requirement evidence

  • Medical records
  • Affidavits from doctors and mental health professionals
  • Affidavits from social workers
  • Photographs of your injuries
  • Affidavits from friends, family and co-workers who saw or heard about what happened and can speak to how the crime has impacted you physically and/or mentally

Helpfulness requirement evidence

Supplement B should address this sufficiently. Your attorney will let you know if any additional evidence should be provided.

Other evidence

If you’re requesting a waiver of grounds of inadmissibility with your U visa application, it’s a good idea to also include evidence that shows you deserve to be forgiven by the U.S. government for any crimes or immigration violations. Letters from work supervisors, church clergy or even your children’s teacher(s) can be helpful. Similarly helpful are letters from friends and family in your home country who can speak to how difficult life would be for you if you were forced to return. Evidence of community ties and birth certificates of U.S. citizen children can also be useful.

U visa FAQs

Q. How long does it take to get a U visa?

A. It can take several years to receive your U visa. This is due to the backlog of applications awaiting approval. Congress caps the number of new U visas that may be issued in a given fiscal year (Oct. 1 – Sept. 31 of each year) at 10,000. That means USCIS can only approve 10,000 new applications* a year and, unfortunately, they receive many more than that.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t apply, nor should you feel despair. While it’s true that you might have to wait a few years to receive your U visa, once USCIS reviews your application and determines that you are eligible, and your application is approvable, you will be placed on a waitlist and sent a deferred action notice. We’ll cover what that means in the next two questions. Your place on the waitlist is determined by the date on your application.

*Only principal petitioners, not derivatives, are counted toward the cap.

Q. Can I be deported while my U visa application is pending?

A. If you are undocumented, then the short answer is, yes, there is always a possibility that you may face deportation. However, once USCIS determines that your U visa application is approvable and places you on the waitlist, you will receive a deferred action notice, which makes you a low priority for deportation.

Q. Can I work while I wait for my U visa to be approved?

A. Yes, once you’ve been placed on the waitlist and receive a deferred action notice you will be eligible to work. You should submit a separate employment authorization form (Form I-765)with your U visa application to request temporary employment authorization while you wait.

Q. Can I apply for a U visa from outside the United States?

A. Yes, so long as the crime happened in the United States or violated U.S. law. The immigration attorneys at Robinson & Henry can assist you with this process, which will involve coordination with the U.S. consulate or embassy in your country.

Whether you need help filing a U visa application from abroad or from the U.S., we can help. The sooner you get started with this process, the better, so take the first step and request a free consultation with a Robinson & Henry immigration attorney. Click here or call 303-688-0944 to schedule a free initial consultation.