The U visa is a temporary immigration status available to victims of serious crimes that took place in the United States. To qualify, it is important for the victim to help in the investigation and prosecution of the crime. Part of the application process requires a law enforcement agency to complete an affidavit (or “Certification of Helpfulness”) that verifies that the victim cooperated in the investigation and prosecution of the crime.
For more information about who will qualify for a U visa, read Nolo’s article “U Visas for Crim Victims Assisting Law Enforcement: Who Is Eligible.” To learn about the certification of helpfulness, see Nolo’s article “What’s Needed for a U Visa Certification of Helpfulness.” Read on for tips about how to navigate this often time-consuming and stressful process.
If you are a victim of a serious crime, it is important for you to work closely with law enforcement in their efforts to investigate and prosecute the crime. One of the purposes of the U visa is to encourage victims to assist law enforcement when they might otherwise stay silent because of the risk of alerting officials to their undocumented or expired immigration status.
It can be scary and intimidating to work closely with law enforcement, especially if you are unfamiliar with U.S. law enforcement authorities or the English language. However, the eventual success of your U visa application will depend on your willingness to do so.
From the beginning of the criminal investigation, you should be available to answer questions about the crime. Promptly return any telephone calls that you receive from authorities. Do your best to make yourself available for any appointments and to be on time. Ideally, you will reach out to police officers, prosecutors, and other government agencies and ask how you can assist them.
In many instances, the investigation may be lengthy and it may be difficult to repeatedly discuss the details about what happened to you. Keep in mind, however, that eventually you will ask the law enforcement agency to return the favor and complete the certification of helpfulness for you.
Another extremely important thing to remember is to never refuse a request for help from law enforcement unless it is absolutely necessary that you do so. If the law enforcement agency alerts U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that you refused a request to assist, it will likely mean that your U visa application will be denied.
There are, however, limits to what law enforcement can ask you to do. Examples of reasonable requests for help include answering questions, writing a statement detailing your experience, and participating as a witness at a trial.
An unreasonable request would be something that puts you in a dangerous position, such as confronting the person who victimized you or wearing a wire to record a conversation with someone. If you ever feel uncomfortable about a request for help, you should consult an immigration attorney. Also, you can reach out to organizations that provide assistance to crime victims.
You will eventually need to ask where to send your request for the certification of helpfulness. In many large agencies, there is often a person assigned specifically to this task. Other agencies may not have staff for this purpose, and still others may not understand what a U visa is. You may have multiple authorities (such as the police, the prosecution, and another state agency) involved with your case and as a result, a choice of different people who may be able to complete the certification for you.
If the agency you are working with has a staff member assigned to handle to U visa certifications, find that person’s contact information and prepare a simple cover letter. In the letter, give a description of the help that you have offered or that you are providing to the investigation and the case number for the crime, then request the certification. Include a blank Form I-918 Supplement B, “U Nonimmigrant Status Certification,” with your letter, as well as a self-addressed return envelope.
If the agency you are working with does not have staff dedicated to U visas or does not seem to understand the process, you may need to educate them. Again, draft a clear cover letter describing the U visa and the assistance you need. Include the Form I-918 Supplement B as well as its instructions. You may also need to include an article or two about the U visa to help the agency understand its role in the certification process. After you send a request, follow up the following week with a telephone call, and ask questions to determine who will be reviewing your certification request.
It is possible that the agency is accommodating and that you will quickly receive your certification. However, in many cases the agency will insist that the case be resolved or closed before they will issue the certification.
If this happens, continue to follow up with the agency every few weeks, with a brief telephone call, email, or letter. Keep in mind that if the case is going to trial, this process could take months (or even years) and you may even be asked to testify as a witness at the trial. If so, you should continue to cooperate as discussed above.
It is important to not become discouraged or angry during this time. If you cooperate fully, and you politely remind them about your certification once every few weeks, the chances are good that you will eventually receive the completed certification so that you can proceed with your U visa application.
Unfortunately there are still some law enforcement agencies that place the U visa on the back burner and will not give high priority to these requests. If it appears that the agency will not work with you, avoid angry letters or telephone calls. Instead, approach an immigration attorney or nonprofit organization with experience in U visa applications and request assistance. (Or, to give your case the best odds of success from the beginning, you might want to consult an attorney earlier in the process.)