U Visas Give Nonimmigrant Status to Victims of Criminal Activity
Congress created the U visa in 2000 to give lawful nonimmigrant status to victims of certain crimes who could help legal authorities investigate and prosecute criminal activity. The U visa serves a two-fold purpose: 1) it allows authorities to get inside information on crimes that disproportionately affect immigrant communities, and 2) it provides temporary status and some peace of mind to victims who have suffered physical, emotional and psychological torment. However, since applying for a U visa requires you to engage with state or federal law enforcement, you must retain experienced legal representation before beginning the process.
Eligibility for U visas
A U visa provides important protections, but has strict requirements. You may be eligible for a U visa if:
- You are the victim of qualifying criminal activity.
- You have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse.
- You have information about the criminal activity.
- You were helpful, are helpful or are likely to be helpful to law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of the crime**.
- The crime occurred in the United States or violated U.S. laws.
- You are admissible to the United States or can obtain a waiver of inadmissibility on most grounds.
The crimes under which an applicant can qualify for a U visa include:
- Blackmail or extortion
- Domestic violence or stalking
- Female genital mutilation
- Felonious assault
- Fraud in foreign labor contracting
- Kidnapping, false imprisonment, unlawful criminal restraint or hostage taking
- Murder or manslaughter
- Obstruction of justice, perjury or witness tampering
- Rape, sexual assault or exploitation
- Slave trade, involuntary servitude or peonage
*You may be eligible if you have suffered other related crimes. It’s important to consult a knowledgeable attorney to determine if your facts fit the law.
**Victims under the age of 16 can appoint a “next friend” as their representative for providing information to authorities.
Benefits and Limitations of U visas for crime victims
There are no filing fees for U visas. Family members of the principal victim who applies for a U visa can also apply and derive legal status based on the principal’s U visa. The number of U visas available in any given year is 10,000. However, family members who apply are not counted toward the cap. If you, as a principal applicant, are placed on a waiting list, you may be granted deferred action or parole, and can even get a work authorization.
A U visa is valid for up to four years, but can be extended under certain circumstances, such as the needs of the investigators or prosecutors in a criminal case. U visa holders can apply for an adjustment of status to legal permanent resident (LPR) after having U visa status for three years. Their family members may also be eligible to apply.
If your U visa is approved, you can technically travel, but we advise against it. If you must travel, please speak to your attorney and let them know when and why you plan on traveling. Do not travel outside the U.S. without consulting your representative first, as this can cause problems trying to reenter the U.S. or even with your ability to apply for permanent residency.
There are many benefits to obtaining a U visa, but there are risks as well. At Bretz & Coven, LLP, our attorneys work to minimize those risks and see that your interests are protected. Don’t attempt to apply for a U visa before meeting with a knowledgeable and experienced immigration attorney. Call Bretz & Coven today at 1 (212) 267-2555 or contact us online to schedule a confidential appointment.