If you are the victim of a serious crime, you might 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.
You must request that a judge, police officer, prosecutor or other official complete a "certification of helpfulness" (Form 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.
The tough part is that law enforcement has no obligation to assist you by filling out this certification. In fact, under the Trump administration, the U.S. government has actively discouraged law enforcement agencies from filling out the certification. You will have to try to prove your usefulness to the law enforcement agency for the best chance of getting a certification.
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.
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.
Learn more about navigating the certification process.
Unfortunately, U.S. immigration law does not specifically define what is meant by "helpful" to law enforcement in the investigation and prosecution of serious crimes.
And again, law enforcement agencies are not obligated to provide a certification of helpfulness. On July 31, 2019, USCIS issued a new law enforcement resource guide, which encouraged law enforcement agencies to limit their issuance of certifications of helpfulness. The new guidelines also advise law enforcement agencies that they can choose not to issue certifications at their own discretion. USCIS also encouraged law enforcement agencies to conduct their own background checks on victims, impose time limitations on U visa certifications (though there are no time limits set under the law), and withdraw or disavow their certification at their discretion.
Under these guidelines, getting a certification has never been more difficult. However, USCIS provides a few guidelines to agencies certifying U visa applications. You may be considered helpful if you:
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.
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 might not be as useful to police officers and prosecutors, since the case will not go to trial.
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:
Under the new guidance issued to law enforcement, many agencies may be less than willing to issue you a certification. 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. Some prosecutors' offices and police departments also have victim's advocates on staff. You or your immigration attorney might want to reach out to an in-house victim's advocate if you have difficulty getting your certification.
Your initial U visa application is not the only time you must cooperate with law enforcement. If you are lucky enough to be approved for U status and ultimately become eligible for a green card, you must prove your continued usefulness to law enforcement. When it comes time to adjust status, you will need to submit another certification of helpfulness showing that you provided helpful information to law enforcement officials on an ongoing basis and you did not "unreasonably refuse" to provide requested assistance.
The best way to demonstrate your continued usefulness is to have a law enforcement officer that will vouch for you, and to have maintained contact with that person over the course of several years.
If you are unable to obtain another certification of helpfulness, contact an experienced immigration attorney to help, because you will need to instead submit an affidavit and other supporting evidence showing all of your contacts and meetings with law enforcement officials. You will also need to explain that you attempted to obtain a certification from a qualifying agency, but were unable to for good reason.