Immigrants who are the victim of a serious crime can get a U visa work permit, which allows them to stay in the country.
Without U visas, these immigrants would be at risk of having to return to their home country, leaving U.S. law enforcement without much to go on to solve the crime.
If you were the victim of a crime in the U.S., an immigration lawyer can help you determine if you qualify for a U visa and guide you through the application process.
Need help applying for and obtaining a U visa so you can continue living and working in the U.S.? We’re here to help.
The Benefits of a U Visa
The primary benefit of the U visa is that it allows immigrants to live (legally) in the U.S. for four years. Then, after living in the country for three years with a U visa, that person can apply for a green card and become a legal permanent resident (green card holder).
In addition to being the starting path to getting a green card, U visa holders also receive government authorization to work in the U.S. Plus, certain family members can also qualify for a U visa and get work authorization.
Related: How Joint Sponsorship Works
Eligibility for a U Visa Work Permit
To qualify for a U visa work permit, you must provide proof that you have a bona fide U visa petition pending. This means that you have shown with evidence that you meet the legal requirements for the U visa. You have to show that you were the victim of a qualifying crime and that you assisted law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of the crime. You have to recieve a signed certification from the law enforcement agency stating that you were helpful in order to be eligible to apply for the U visa and then get a work permit while your case is pending. You can learn about these requirements here.
Apart from meeting the legal requirements for the U Visa, many immigrants also need a waiver of inadmissibility with their U visa petition due to past immigration violations. These violations could be entering the country illegally, having a deportation order, having certain criminal convictions or arrests, or having many unlawful entries. If you need a waiver, it is filed on Form I-192. You will also need to provide documentation in support of your waiver.
U Visa Application and Work Permit Process
When applying for a U visa, you’ll find that there’s a backlog of applications — it could take you years to receive your visa. There is a yearly limit on U visas; the USCIS only grants 10,000 every year.
And while the organization reviews applications after hitting the limit, you’ll have to wait your turn before they issue you a U visa.
However, if they approve your application, you’ll go on a specific waitlist and gain deferred action status. This status means that you can get a 2-year work permit while waiting for your U visa and you will also be protected from deportation. In addition, you can renew that work permit if your U visa is not available within two years.
The steps to apply for a U visa work permit are as follows:
- Fill out Form I-918 and provide proof of eligibility with supporting documents.
- Fill in Form I-918 Supplement A if you are petitioning for other family members to join you (we’ll discuss this further below).
- Provide a signed Form I-918 Supplement B by the relevant law enforcement agency, showing that you are the victim of a crime and you were helpful.
- Provide evidence that supports your claim, including:
- A doctor’s report on your condition
- Notes from therapy sessions
- Police reports and court documents
- Psychiatric evaluations
Can a U Visa Holder Change to a Permanent Resident?
Once you receive a U visa, it is valid for four years — after the first three, you may seek permanent resident status in the US by applying for a green card.
To become a permanent resident after holding your U visa for three years, you’ll file Form I-485 to apply for your green card. You will need to show that you don’t have any disqualifying criminal history and that you have been continuously residing in the U.S. since you received your U visa.
What Crimes Are Associated with a U Visa?
There are various crimes that, when committed against you, can qualify you for a U visa. In addition, the crime doesn’t have to be “finished” in order for you to earn your visa. As long as there is proof of the attempt, you can apply for a U visa.
Common crimes worthy of U visas include:
- Sex crimes and trafficking — rape, sexual assault, prostitution, etc.
- Violent crimes and crimes that lead to death — manslaughter, murder, etc.
- Obstruction of justice — lying in court, hiding evidence, etc.
- Enslavement crimes – forced labor, slavery, human trafficking, kidnapping, etc.
- Labor and employment fraud — hiring an immigrant under false pretenses.
Can a Family Member Receive a U Visa?
If you’re applying for a U visa, you likely don’t want to live in the U.S. without your family. Luckily, the U.S. government also offers a U visa to certain family members based on their relationship to you.
Eligible family members include:
- Parents (If you are under 21)
- Children who are unmarried and under 21
- Your spouse
- Unmarried siblings younger than 18 (If you are under 21)
In addition, your family members may also require waivers on Form I-192 and must be deemed “of good moral character” by the U.S. government to receive their U visas.
U Visa and Work Permit Processing Times
Because a U visa applicant must be helpful to law enforcement officials in the investigation and/or prosecution of the crime, timing is crucial.
As soon as you become the victim of a crime, you should notify the police and give them the most detailed report that you can — this increases the odds that they can locate the suspect and that they will find that you were helpful in the investigation as required for the certification on Form I-918B.
But if you wait too long, you run the risk of a law enforcement agency being unable to investigate the crime which makes it less likely they would sign a certification on your behalf.
The sooner, the better.
How Much Does a U Visa Cost?
Applying for a U visa petition on Form I-918 is free — the USCIS wants to protect undocumented crime victims in the U.S. and law enforcement officials want to catch criminals in the community. However, there is an application fee for the Form I-192 waiver which is $930.00. Additionally, although the first work permit for the main U visa applicant is free, if you are including any family members, they will need to pay for their work permit application on Form I-765, which is $410.00. There is a fee waiver for these fees if you qualify.
There are also application fees and costs associated with applying for a green card after three years of living in the U.S. with a U visa.
Unfortunately, the process of applying for and obtaining a U visa (and, in the long run, a green card) is challenging. We always recommend working with an attorney experienced with immigration law and U visas to guide you through the process.
Getting your U visa may be challenging, but it doesn’t have to be confusing. Reach out to your #1 immigration attorney today.
U Visa Can Be Beneficial for Victims of Crimes
With a U visa, you can gain a lawful status for four years, work authorization while your U visa is pending, and the ability to adjust your status to a permanent resident after three years of having your U visa.
In addition, you get derivative benefits for your qualifying family members.
So if you have been the victim of a crime in the U.S., and you have information to help law enforcement investigate the case, contact us today to find out if you can apply for the U visa.
Related: Do You Qualify for VAWA?