U Visas For Victims of Specific Crimes

Posted on: January 5th, 2014
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The U Visa allows temporary immigration benefits to crime victims willing to assist law enforcement with criminal investigations.

Congress created the U nonimmigrant visa with the passage of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (VTVPA) (including the Battered Immigrant Women’s Protection Act) in October 2000. The legislation was intended to strengthen the ability of law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute cases of domestic violence, sexual assault, trafficking of undocumented immigrants and other crimes while, at the same time, offer protection to victims of such crimes. The legislation also helps law enforcement agencies to better serve victims of crimes. The VTVPA created a special nonimmigrant classification designated as the U visa for victims of specific crimes. This article addresses the requirements and issues for potential U visa applicants.

Who is eligible for the U Visa?

Currently, the U visa is available to those who meet all four basic requirements as follows:

1. Immigrants who can show substantial suffering as the result of physical or mental abuse as a result of being the victim of certain criminal activity;

2. Immigrants who possess information about that criminal activity.

3. Immigrants who have been, or are being, or will be helpful or are likely to be helpful to Federal, State, or local authorities.

4. The criminal activity described violated the laws of the US and occurred in the US or in territories of the US. Criminal activity in violation of Federal, State, or local criminal law includes the following:

  • Rape;
  • Torture;
  • Trafficking;
  • Incest;
  • Domestic violence;
  • Sexual assault;
  • Abusive sexual contact;
  • Being held hostage;
  • Female genital mutilation;
  • Sexual exploitation;
  • Prostitution;
  • Sexual exploitation;
  • Peonage;
  • Unlawful criminal restraint;
  • Abduction;
  • Kidnapping;
  • Slave trade;
  • Involuntary servitude;
  • False imprisonment;
  • Blackmail;
  • Extortion;
  • Manslaughter;
  • Murder;
  • Felonious assault;
  • Witness tampering;
  • Obstruction of justice;
  • Perjury;
  • And any related offenses including attempt, conspiracy or solicitation to commit any of these crimes.

Which USCIS field office accepts the U visa applications?

Due to prior inconsistencies in the determination of the U Visa, the USCIS Vermont Service Center (USCIS VSC) is the designated “clearing house” for U visa applications. For more information on the USCIS VSC.

What forms are required by the USCIS VSC for filing a U visa application?

All U visa applicants must submit a petition for U Nonimmigrant Status, Form I-918. In addition, applicants must submit Form I-918, Supplement B, U Nonimmigrant Status Certification, on which a law enforcement official confirms that you were or will likely be helpful in the prosecution of the case. Form 918, Supplement A is used to include family members applying with the principle U visa applicant. Application cover letters should clearly state the applicant’s basis for requesting the U visa and explain why each submitted document is relevant. The application must include the applicant’s personal statement describing the abuse or criminal activity suffered by the applicant relevant to the U visa eligibility. The applicant must give all personal information such as personal identification, copies of passports, birth certificates (translated) and I-94 documents for all persons applying for both the U visa and the derivative U visa.

Is there a fee to file a U visa application?

There is no fee for filing a Form I-918. Fees for any other forms associated with the process can be waived if the applicant files a fee waiver request.

What forms of evidence are required by the USCIS VSC for determination of the U visa application?

The application must include the following categories of evidence.

1. Form 918 Supplement B, U Nonimmigrant Certification. This is the law enforcement certification and can be obtained during the investigation or prosecution of the criminal activity. The certification must come from a Federal, State, or local law enforcement official, prosecutor, or judge investigating or prosecuting the criminal activity. This certification must be submitted with a Form I-918, Supplement B, U Nonimmigrant Status Certification.

2. Evidence that the applicant is a victim of qualifying criminal activity. Examples include trial transcripts, court documents, police reports, news articles, affidavits and declarations by witnesses, law enforcement officials or medical officials, orders of protection, and any other relevant documents.

3. Evidence that the applicant has suffered substantial physical or mental abuse. Aside from Form 918, Supplement B, additional evidence may be submitted which addresses the following factors:

a. The nature of the injury inflicted;
b. The severity of the perpetrator’s conduct;
c. The severity of the harm the applicant suffered;
d. The duration of the infliction of the harm; and
e. The extent to which there is permanent or serious harm to the applicant’s appearance, health, or physical or mental soundness.

USCIS will examine the evidence in its totality and may look at a series of acts together even if a single act alone doesn’t rise to the level of substantial abuse. Evidence in this category may include

a. Reports and affidavits from judges, court officials, medical personnel, school officials, clergy, social workers and other social service personnel;
b. Orders of protection and related legal documents;
c. Photos of visible injuries supported by affidavits; and
d. Affidavits from witnesses, acquaintances or family members with personal knowledge of the facts regarding the criminal activity

 4. Evidence the applicant possesses information concerning qualifying criminal activity. Evidence discussed above can meet this category. For petitioners under 16 or who are incapacitated or incompetent, a parent, guardian or “next friend” can submit on behalf of the applicant, but evidence of age, incapacity or incompetence needs to be submitted as well as evidence of court recognition of “next friend” status.

5. Evidence of helpfulness. The evidence discussed above can be submitted in this category and the approach for under 16s and those who are incapacitated or incompetent apply here as well.

6. Evidence criminal activity is qualifying and violated US law or occurred in the US.

7. Personal Statement that addresses the following:

a. The nature of the qualifying criminal activity;
b. When the criminal activity occurred;
c. Who was responsible;
d. The events surrounding the criminal activity;
e. How the criminal activity came to be investigated or prosecuted; and
f. What substantial physical and/or mental abuse the applicant suffered as a result of having been a victim of the criminal activity.

The personal statement may be submitted by a parent, guardian, or next friend for those under age 16 or who are incapacitated or incompetent.

Can immigrants who have been granted the U visa apply for work authorization?

U visa holders automatically qualify for employment authorization.

What is the duration of U status?

U nonimmigrant status cannot exceed four years. After three years, U visa holders may apply for lawful permanent residency. However, according to USCIS, extensions are available upon certification by a certifying agency that the foreign national’s presence in the United States is required to assist in the investigation or prosecution of the qualifying criminal activity.

What are the grounds for termination of the U status?

U status can be terminated for changes of circumstances in the case so that it no longer warrants deferred action. Furthermore, U status can be terminated for conduct or a condition that was not disclosed prior to issuance of relief. And if the applicant or qualifying family members become inadmissible for conduct occurring whie the petition for U status is pending, a waiver of inadmissibility must be obtained before U status will be granted.

What happens if the U status is terminated?

Determinations of termination of the U Status cannot be appealed. Termination cancels the deferred action and revokes related work authorization.

Can individuals in removal proceedings and with final removal orders apply for the U visa?

Yes, if an individual is in removal proceedings they may apply for a U visa. For detailed information on how USCIS handles these situations click here.

Who is eligible for the derivative classification of the U visa.

Family members who accompany the petitioner can, under certain circumstances, obtain a U nonimmigrant derivative visa.

If the U nonimmigrant petitioner is under 21 years of age he/she may file for U visas for the following family members:

  • Spouse
  • Unmarried children under 21
  • Parents
  • Unmarried siblings under 18

If the U nonimmigrant petitioner is 21 years or older he/she may file for U visas for the following family members:

  •  Spouse
  • Unmarried children under 21

 What if the applicant is outside the US?

Applicants outside the US are eligible to petition for U nonimmigrant classification and seek a U visa at a consulate. If an applicant is inadmissible, they may file a Form I-912 Application for Advance Permission to Enter as a Non-Immigrant with the Vermont Service Center.

What is the annual limit on U Non-immigrants?

Up to 10,000 U nonimmigrant visas may be issued in a fiscal year. This number does not include derivative applicants. If the cap is hit, USCIS will create a waiting list to allow victims cooperating with law enforcement agencies a mechanism to, according to USCIS, “stabilize their immigration status.” Those on the waiting list will be given deferred action or parole while they are on the waiting list so that they can obtain employment authorization or travel while waiting on the adjudication of their case in the following fiscal year. The cap is regularly hit so applicants will need to be conscious of this when pursuing U nonimmigrant status.