Depending on which statistics you read, unauthorized immigrants are between five and ten times more likely to be victims of crime than others in the United States. Worse, if immigrants are undocumented, they have a significant potential deterrent to reporting crime: the threat of deportation.
If you are an unauthorized immigrant and have been the victim of a certain crime, you may be eligible to receive a U visa. This category of visa provides valid nonimmigrant status, legal authorization to work in the United States, and a potential path toward legal permanent residency.
If you have been a victim of domestic violence or human trafficking, you may also be eligible for other immigration benefits beyond the U visa. Please review our articles on VAWA petitions and T visas. Also, please remember that immigration law is extremely complex. You should discuss your particular situation with an experienced immigration attorney to fully understand all available options.
Requirements of the U Visa
The U nonimmigrant visa is awarded for a period of up to four years. After three years, the U visa holder may apply for legal permanent residency.
To be eligible for a U visa, you must meet the following criteria:
- You are the victim of certain types of criminal activity (the qualifying crimes are listed below);
- You have suffered substantial physical or mental injury because of the criminal activity;
- You have information about the crime;
- You were helpful, are helpful, or will be helpful to law enforcement in the investigation and prosecution of the crime;
- The crime occurred in the United States or violated U.S. law; and
- You are admissible to the U.S. (if you are not admissible to the U.S., you may apply for a waiver of your inadmissibility).
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services may approve up to 10,000 U visa petitions each year.
As mentioned above, not every criminal activity qualifies for U visa eligibility. The following is a list of crimes that qualify under the U visa rules:
Abduction, abusive sexual contact, blackmail, domestic violence, extortion, false imprisonment, female genital mutilation, felonious assault, fraud in foreign labor contracting, hostage, incest, involuntary servitude, kidnapping, manslaughter, murder, obstruction of justice, peonage, perjury, prostitution, rape, sexual assault, sexual exploitation, slave trade stalking, torture, trafficking, witness tampering, unlawful criminal restraint, and any other crimes where the elements are similar to those on this list.
This list is defined under federal immigration law. In most circumstances, the actual crime was treated by a state law enforcement agency like the police or prosecutor’s office under state law. An experienced immigration attorney at Andres Mejer Law can evaluate the state crime from the perspective of federal law to see if the elements of the State crime are the same or similar to the federal requirement.
Again, you must have helped law enforcement in the investigation and prosecution of one of the above crimes to be eligible for a U visa. Many different activities may qualify as assisting law enforcement. Calling the police, answering police questions, being interviewed by the prosecutor, testifying in court, etc. are all ways in which you may have assisted law enforcement.
Applying for a U Visa
The application process for a U visa can be time consuming. The applicant must gather considerable supporting documentation to increase his or her odds of being approved for U nonimmigrant status.
The following is general information regarding the documentation necessary to prove eligibility for U nonimmigrant status. Again, immigration law is extraordinarily complicated. You should discuss your case with an experienced immigration attorney prior to pursuing any immigration benefits.
- Certification In addition to the I-918, Petition for U Nonimmigrant Status, you must submit a supplemental certification from an authorized law enforcement official certifying that you were/are/will be helpful in the investigation and prosecution of criminal activity. This can frequently be the toughest part of the case. A law enforcement agency like the police, prosecutor, or judge must be convinced to sign the form in order for you to apply to immigration. They are usually not well informed about this process. Educating them is often the key to get the certification signed.
- Inadmissibility Waiver If you are not admissible to the United States you must file a waiver application. Your U nonimmigrant status cannot be approved until your waiver is approved. You probably need a waiver if you are in the country without authorization, have been deported and returned to the U.S. illegally, have committed a crime, suffer from certain diseases, or have addiction issues.
- Personal Statement Perhaps the most important component of your petition for U status is your personal statement. Tell your story. Your personal statement is your only opportunity to explain everything that happened to you, what injury you suffered, any treatments you are receiving, how you provided assistance to law enforcement, etc. You should also use your personal statement to explain why you should be granted a waiver for whatever reason you are inadmissible.
- Evidence of the Crime Even though you must submit a certification from law enforcement with your petition, you also want provide as much information as you can about the crime. Trial transcripts, police reports, court documents, news articles, affidavits, orders of protection, etc. are all valuable evidence of the crime.
- Evidence of Injury You must provide credible evidence that proves you suffered substantial injury as the result of the crime. This should include medical records; affidavits from doctors, psychologists, counselors, etc.; photographs of injuries; affidavits from friends and family about the injury; etc.
If any documentation is not in English, you should obtain a certified translation.
Applying for Permanent Residency
Approval of U nonimmigrant status will allow you to live and work in the United States for a period of up to four years. During this time, you should be certain to continue to cooperate with law enforcement regarding the criminal activity. After three years of U nonimmigrant status, you may apply for legal permanent residency.
Being the victim of a crime can be demoralizing and dehumanizing. If you are a crime victim and are an unauthorized immigrant, you do not have to be afraid to report the crime and cooperate with law enforcement. Doing so likely will empower you, and you might end up with a green card. Andres Mejer, nj immigration lawyer, is available to help.