If you are the victim of a serious crime, you may be eligible to apply for a U visa, allowing you temporary and perhaps permanent legal status in the United States. Procedurally, the main part of the application process is to submit Form I-918, Petition for U Nonimmigrant Status, to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). However, you will also need to show USCIS that a law enforcement official has “vouched” for your petition.
A judge, police officer, prosecutor or other official must complete a “certification of helpfulness” (I-918 Supplement B, U Nonimmigrant Status Certification) on your behalf. This document is a vital part of your application. It certifies that you have been a victim of qualifying criminal activity, have information that will be useful to law enforcement, and are cooperating in order to bring the perpetrator to justice.
This article details what is necessary in order to convince USCIS that you are assisting the appropriate authorities by providing information about a serious crime. For further instructions on how to apply for a U visa, see “Filing an I-918 Petition for a U Visa.”
Which Agencies and Officials May Complete the Certification
The agencies that will most commonly certify a U visa petition are local, state, and federal police departments and prosecutors. Even a judge may sign a U visa certification, although many will refuse to do so in order to avoid a showing of bias for the prosecution.
However, any state or federal agency that has “responsibility for the investigation or prosecution of a qualifying crime or criminal activity” may complete the certification of helpfulness. For example, if you are the victim of a crime that requires the involvement of Child Protective Services (CPS), you could bypass the police and justice departments and instead have CPS help you with your application.
USCIS states that people who are in a supervisory role and have responsibility for issuing certificates of helpfulness must sign the petition, but allows the agency to designate another certifying official if it chooses to do so.
A Law Enforcement Official Will Determine Whether You Are “Helpful” to the Criminal Case
Unfortunately, the law does not specifically define what is meant by “helpful” to law enforcement in the investigation and prosecution of serious crimes. However, USCIS provides a few guidelines to agencies certifying U visa applications. You may be considered helpful if you:
- are a victim of a qualifying crime with information regarding this crime (For more on which crimes qualify and other eligibility requirements, see “U Visas for Crime Victims Assisting Law Enforcement – Who is Eligible.”)
- have given this information to law enforcement, are currently assisting law enforcement, or are likely to be able to provide useful information in the future for the purpose of investigating and prosecuting the criminals involved, and
- have not refused a reasonable request for cooperation.
What this means is that law enforcement can decide whether or not you are “helpful” to them and whether they should fill out the certification of helpfulness for you.
Why Timing Matters
Because the certifying agency has the final say as to whether or not you have been or will be helpful, it is imperative that you attempt to get this certification as early in the process as you possibly can. That way, you can provide a sufficient amount of helpful evidence to authorities and show that you are eager to participate in the investigation.
Also, if the criminals involved are arrested and plead guilty to the criminal charges before you contact police or answer a request for cooperation from law enforcement, your evidence and testimony may not be as useful to police officers and prosecutors, since the case will not go to trial.
What Information and Assistance Will Be Helpful to Law Enforcement
There are many ways you can provide information that will assist law enforcement in investigating and prosecuting those who victimized you. The more details you can provide, the better chance you have of convincing an official to complete a certification of helpfulness. You should demonstrate that you are interested in bringing the perpetrators to justice by being as forthcoming as possible with details and evidence about the crime. This could include (but is not limited to) your providing:
- An identification of the criminals involved, such as their names and addresses, or your participating in a lineup identification.
- Information that helps to apprehend the perpetrators, such as ideas as to where they may be “hiding out,” the names of friends and family who might give information about their whereabouts, or identifying details about their vehicle (make, color, license plate number).
- Descriptive details that help the prosecution convince a jury that the accused is guilty of the crime, rebut the criminal’s alibi, help to support a motive for committing the crime, or help to determine what penalty (or sentencing) should be requested.
- Evidence that could help law enforcement classify the crime as more serious or lead to charging the criminals involved with other crimes. (For example, this might be the situation if the officer is investigating a felony assault, but you have evidence that could lead to an attempted murder charge, or you have information that might lead to an additional charge of sexual assault.)
- Agreement to testify as a witness if the case goes to trial.
An Advocate Can Help You Navigate the Certification Process
While many agencies are happy to provide certifications of helpfulness at the onset of an investigation in order to gain credible evidence as well as your agreement to be a potential witness, others may not be so willing. This is especially true since they know that you will be unable to obtain a U visa if they refuse to complete the certification.
A police officer or prosecutor could, unfortunately, “use” your need for a certification of helpfulness against you in order to coerce you to provide details you are not comfortable revealing or to become an unwilling participant in investigative activities (such as “wearing a wire” to obtain information). This is why it is important to have an experienced immigration attorney or an advocate who is familiar with U visas at your side, to help you communicate and negotiate with law enforcement officials.