The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 authorized two new visas: the “U” visa for immigrant victims of serious crimes and the “T” visa for victims of severe human trafficking. These visas were created due to rising public safety concerns, with the idea that foreign victims of crimes in the U.S. should be allowed to remain so as to provide law enforcement officials with information helpful in apprehending and prosecuting criminal offenders.
If approved for a U visa, you will be granted legal status in the U.S. for up to four years (which can be extended in rare cases where "exceptional circumstances" warrant it). Once you have held your U visa for three years, you might be eligible to apply for legal permanent residence (a "green card").
However, it is not enough to simply state that you have been a victim of a serious crime in order to get a U visa. You will need to provide a “certificate of helpfulness” from a qualifying government agency and prove that you suffered mental or physical abuse by a U.S. perpetrator. Additionally, if you are “inadmissible” to the U.S. due to past immigration violations or for other reasons, you will need to apply for a waiver of these grounds.
This article addresses who will qualify for a U visa and what evidence you will need to prepare for your petition. For detailed instructions on applying, see Filing an I-918 Petition for a U Visa.
In order to apply for a U visa using Form I-918, Petition for U Nonimmigrant Status, you must meet the following criteria and provide substantial evidence to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS):
You can apply for a U visa from within the U.S. or abroad at a U.S. consulate. Be sure to consult with an advocate familiar with U visas or an experienced immigration attorney who can help you with your application. Keep reading for more information on what evidence is necessary to prove that you qualify for a U visa.
In a typical U visa case, you will have been the victim of a serious crime that took place in the United States. In some cases, however, the crime might have violated U.S. laws overseas (such as a human trafficking or kidnapping crime). Examples of qualifying crimes are:
The crime need not have been “completed” in order for it to qualify. An attempt, solicitation, or conspiracy to commit one of the above-mentioned crimes is enough. For example, obviously a murder victim wouldn’t be applying for a U visa. But if you are the victim of attempted murder, you may qualify for a U visa.
It is not enough to merely be victim of a qualifying crime. You must have suffered “substantial” physical injury or mental anguish as a result of this criminal activity and you must provide USCIS with medical records and affidavits to support your claim. In determining whether the injury you suffered was “substantial,” USCIS will consider how severe the injury was, for how long the abuse occurred, and how likely it is to cause you lasting or permanent harm.
You should provide a personal statement detailing the physical or mental harm you suffered, as well as medical records or statements from treating physicians and psychologists, photographs of physical injuries, and affidavits from social workers.
One of the reasons for the authorization of U visas is that many U.S. immigrants do not provide information to law enforcement due to cultural differences, language barriers, and fear of deportation. Due to this reluctance to report, many perpetrators of serious crime have viewed immigrants as an excellent “target.”
In order to further the public safety objectives of these visas, your petition must be certified by a police officer (or other law enforcement official) via Form I-918B. The law enforcement agency must attest that you were a victim of a qualifying crime and you are likely to be helpful to an investigation or prosecution of the crime.
Police departments are not the only qualifying law enforcement agency who can issue a certification of helpfulness. Any law enforcement agency that has “responsibility for the investigation or prosecution of a qualifying crime or criminal activity” may complete the certification of helpfulness.
Cooperating with law enforcement and providing information that could lead to the identification, arrest, and conviction of a criminal is absolutely vital, in order to receive a U visa. Law enforcement agencies are not, however, obligated to provide a certification of helpfulness.
On July 31, 2019, USCIS issued a law enforcement resource guide. This encouraged law enforcement agencies to limit issuance of certifications of helpfulness, telling them they can choose not to issue such certifications at their own discretion. The guidelines also encouraged law enforcement agencies to conduct their own background checks on victims, impose time limitations on U visa certifications (even though there are no time limits under the law), and withdraw or disavow certification at their discretion.
Therefore, it is in your best interest to provide as much information as soon as possible. For more on this, see What’s Needed for a U Visa Certification of Helpfulness.
To be eligible for a U visa, you must not be “inadmissible” to the United States. This means that you would not be barred from U.S. entry due to factors such as multiple criminal convictions, immigration violations, certain medical conditions, or any of several other reasons. (See Inadmissibility: When the U.S. Can Keep You Out.)
You need not, however, worry about being inadmissible as a likely public charge (someone who might have to rely on need-based public assistance), which does not apply to U visa applicants as of 2014.
In order to apply for a waiver of inadmissibility, you must submit USCIS Form I-192, Application for Advance Permission to Enter as a Nonimmigrant. Unlike the I-601 inadmissibility waiver that's required for other nonimmigrant and immigrant petitions, this waiver does not require a showing of “extreme hardship.” Such waiver applications are reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
It is important to disclose every ground of inadmissibility in your U visa petition. If you fail to disclose prior immigration violations or criminal activity, you risk having your U visa revoked. Because of the high stakes, you should review a copy of your immigration and criminal records prior to applying, if you have any question about inadmissibility.
Certain family members might be eligible to become derivative U visa recipients if the principal petitioner’s application is approved. These include your:
You can submit Form I-918, Supplement A, Petition for Qualifying Family Member of U Visa Recipient along with your own petition or after your U visa is approved.
Any derivative relatives that you include must also be “admissible” to the U.S. (or apply for a waiver) and have good moral character. (The "public charge" ground of inadmissibility doesn't apply to derivative family members, either.)
If you think you might be eligible for a U visa based on the above, start the application process as soon as possible. If you can provide plenty of details to aid law enforcement, you will improve your chances of receiving a certification of helpfulness.
Also, the earlier it is in the criminal investigation and prosecution, the more likely it is that you will be able to convince USCIS that you play a vital role in bringing the criminals involved to justice and should be therefore be allowed to stay in the United States.