many crime victims are afraid to speak to law enforcement

Everything You Need To Know About U Visa

U visas are set aside for nonimmigrant victims of certain crimes. Many of these crime victims have experienced physical or mental abuse. Often, these victims are undocumented immigrants who are reluctant to go to law enforcement because they fear being detained or deported on account of their unlawful immigration status. A U visa can ease those fears, allowing the victim to receive a temporary lawful residence status. These individuals can later qualify for specific green cards, but they must first have held U nonimmigrant status. Here is everything you should know about a U visa. 

What is a U Visa, and What Is Its Purpose?

Victims of specific crimes who have suffered physical or mental abuse and who can help law enforcement or the government detect, investigate and/or prosecute criminal activities might qualify for a U nonimmigrant visa. The United States Congress created the U visa in October 2000. With its creation, undocumented victims of sex crimes, such as sexual assault, physical abuse, human trafficking, and other violent crimes, can come forward to law enforcement authorities.

These victims often do not feel safe speaking to law enforcement for fear of detainment or deportation in many cases. As a result, before the U visa came into effect, these crimes were rarely reported, and the criminals could more likely get away with the crimes. In addition to that, these criminals could easily continue to hurt and abuse other individuals, especially those in the undocumented community, but also including U.S. citizens. 

However, with the U visa regulations, undocumented victims can feel safe and approach law enforcement to make a report. Justice can take place, and that makes all communities safer. Law enforcement can investigate and build a case against these criminal perpetrators when survivors come forward. 

What Does the U Visa Provide to Victims of Crime?

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Victims of crime are reluctant to speak to the authorities about criminal activity. With a U visa, some of those fears can be alleviated. The victim will have to apply for a U visa. Once they are approved, there are several benefits for them, such as:

  • Temporary immigration status with work authorization
  • Temporary immigration status for qualifying family members
  • Possible pathway to permanent residence status

Many view the U visa as one way to get United States citizenship. Once the application is granted, the visa proves lawful immigration status. This temporary permanent residence is valid for four years. After the third year, the U visa holder could be eligible for a green card. 

Who is Eligible for a U Visa?

Like most visas, there is a process to be granted this status. If you want to be eligible for a U nonimmigrant visa, there are specific criteria to meet, such as:

  • The individual was a victim of criminal activities qualified by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
  • The victimization in the crime involved significant mental or physical abuse.
  • The victim can provide information about the criminal activity. However, there are exceptions for victims under the age of 16. For cases involving an underage victim, a third-party individual can make a statement about the crimes on the minor’s behalf.
  • The information can help law enforcement detect, investigate and/or prosecute the crime, something that is verified through the Law Enforcement Certification process. 
  • The crime happened in the United States, and it violated United States law.

Family members of nonimmigrants could also be eligible for U visas. These individuals include children, parents, spouses, and siblings. The rules for when certain family members are eligible vary depending upon who the main U visa applicant is.  

How to Apply For a U Visa and What You Need for The Process

a U visa can be a path towards U.S. citizenship

If you want to petition for a U nonimmigrant visa, you must fill out Form I-918. The supplemental B portion of the form is for an authorized official to state that you are currently helping, have helped, or will help the United States government with any investigations and or prosecutions related to the criminal activity you were a victim of. The individual must be willing to aid in the prosecution and investigation of criminal activity. However, the perpetrator does not have to be arrested or convicted for the form to be signed by the official. 

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A law enforcement certification

A law enforcement certification must be signed to complete the U visa process. In that form, the individual confirms that they are victims of a qualifying crime and willing to cooperate with an official investigation. This form needs to be signed by a law enforcement official or an appropriate “certifying agency”. Finding a willing law enforcement official, or certifying official can be challenging for many victims. Other certifying officials include a district attorney, social workers, and judges. Generally, there is no federal law that requires law enforcement to sign a certification, even if the victim qualifies. However, some states, like California, take a victim-centered approach and have a state law that requires the certification to be completed if certain criteria are met. This is why you need an attorney to advocate for you when it comes to getting a certification signed, no matter where you live.  

Adjustment of status and documentation

The first step to gaining permanent residency is filling out the I-485 form. This form will request an Adjustment of Status. A few specific requirements must be met, such as:

  • An individual was legally admitted to the United States with U nonimmigrant status
  • An individual was physically present in the United States for at least three years since admittance as a U nonimmigrant
  • An individual is not admissible under INA section 212(a)(3)(E)
  • Individuals merit a favorable exercise of discretion under public interest, humanitarian standards, and family unity factors. 

If individuals participate in certain crimes, such as torture or murder, they will not be accepted as admissible candidates. 

Criminal Activities: What Are Qualifying Crimes?

Unfortunately, not all crime victims qualify for a U visa. Before the U visa process can begin, the victim needs to determine if they meet the eligibility requirements. Many crimes are so egregious that the victim qualifies to apply for a U visa. These crimes include:

  • Abduction
  • Abusive sexual contact
  • Domestic violence
  • Extortion
  • False imprisonment
  • Female genital mutilation
  • Hostage
  • Involuntary servitude
  • Fraud in foreign labor contracting
  • Kidnapping
  • Manslaughter
  • Murder
  • Peonage
  • Perjury
  • Prostitution
  • Rape
  • Sexual assault
  • Sexual exploitation
  • Slave trade
  • Stalking
  • Torture
  • Unlawful criminal restraints
  • Other related crimes

There are many more crimes that qualify for U visa eligibility.  This is because many states punish crimes that are similar to those listed above, but which are labeled differently in that state. Undocumented victims of any crime should speak to an immigration attorney to determine if they are eligible for a U visa. 

Essential Factors to Consider

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The U visa application (Form I-918) is free through the USCIS. Along with that, the approval rate is around 87 percent for principal petitioners, according to the USCIS. Denied applications are usually attributed to missing evidence, inadmissibility to criminal activity, abandonment, no signs of harm, and non-qualifying criminal activity. 

However, most U visa applicants also need to file for a waiver of inadmissibility. This waiver has a filing fee associated with it. In the majority of cases, this waiver must be approved before the applicant can get a U visa.

A U visa is a way to protect innocent immigrants who may have been victims of criminal activities. As long as the victim has suffered a qualifying crime and agrees to help with the investigation or prosecution they could qualify for this visa. Applying for a U visa can be difficult. For that reason, victims should seek help from an experienced immigration attorney

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