What's Needed for a U Visa Certification of Helpfulness

What type of document do you need from police or law enforcement to get a U visa, and how do you convince them to give it to you?

By , Attorney Case Western Reserve University School of Law
Updated 6/03/2023

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 and acknowledged that you are assisting them in the investigation.

To do so, 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.

This article details what is necessary in order to obtain this document and convince USCIS that you are assisting the appropriate authorities by providing information about a serious crime.

Which Agencies and Officials May Complete a Certification of Helpfulness for U Visa Applicant

The types of U.S. agencies that will most commonly certify a U visa petition are local, state, territorial, tribal, 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 agency that has criminal investigative jurisdiction 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. Or, departments of labor or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) could provide a certification.

The guidelines state 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.

Are Law Enforcement Agencies Under Any Obligation to Provide the Certificate of Helpfulness?

Unfortunately, law enforcement agencies have, in most cases, no obligation to assist a would-be U visa applicant by filling out this certification. Many outright ignore or refuse to prepare them, or delay to the point where it becomes useless. The situation is so problematic that some states have passed laws mandating that agencies provide this certification within a certain time if the victim is indeed eligible for it.

In any case, you will want to try to prove your usefulness to the law enforcement agency for the best chance of getting a certification.

A Law Enforcement Official Will Determine Whether You Are "Helpful" to the Criminal Case

Law enforcement may issue a certification if the victim "has been, is being, or is likely to be helpful to law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, or other government officials in the investigation or prosecution of the qualifying criminal activity of which he or she is a victim."

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.

Also, law enforcement agencies are not obligated to provide a certification of helpfulness, and willingness to do so can vary considerably between individual agencies. However, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) currently encourages them to help, noting in its U Visa Law Enforcement Resource Guide that the benefits of assisting U visa applicants include creating trust within the community by taking a victim-centered approach, encouraging others to report serious crimes, and ultimately strengthening law enforcement's ability to detect, investigate, and prosecute crimes.

DHS also provides guidelines to agencies certifying U visa applications about what it means to be "helpful." This includes if you:

  1. are a victim of a qualifying crime (and not also a perpetrator of that crime)
  2. possess credible and reliable information about the criminal
  3. have been, are being, or are likely to be helpful to law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, or other government officials in the investigation or prosecution of that crime (for more on which crimes qualify and other eligibility requirements, see U Visas for Crime Victims Assisting Law Enforcement--Who is Eligible), and
  4. provide ongoing assistance with the investigation of or prosecution for the
    crime when reasonably requested, including after reporting it and even after being granted U status. (When it comes time to apply for a green card, you will have to show that you did not unreasonably refuse to comply with requests for assistance.)

Fortunately, it is not required that there exist any current, ongoing investigation, nor that actual charges are filed, nor that a prosecution or a conviction are completed. Nevertheless, it's ultimately up to U.S. law enforcement to decide whether or not you are "helpful" to them and whether they should fill out the certification of helpfulness for you. You'll obviously want to be as helpful as you can, though USCIS is also expected to take individual circumstances, such as the victim's age, maturity, experience of trauma, and so on into account when deciding whether the applicant was adequately helpful.

If the agency signs the certification for you, it will place the Form I-918B and any supporting documentation into an envelope and seal it, then write on the front, in capital letters: "DO NOT OPEN. FOR USCIS USE ONLY," and on the back, write the signer's initials across the seal, then cover that with clear tape. You will be given the sealed envelope for submission with your Form I-918; and obviously should follow the instructions and not open it

Timing Matters to Your U Visa Case

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 relatively early in the process. 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.

However, the signed I-918 is good for only six months until you turn it in to USCIS. If yours expires, you will need to ask the agency for a new one.

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:

  1. An identification of the criminals involved, such as their names and addresses, or your participating in a lineup identification.
  2. Information that helps to apprehend the perpetrators, such as ideas as to where they might be "hiding out," names of friends and family who might give information about their whereabouts, or identifying details about their vehicle (make, color, license plate number).
  3. 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 sought.
  4. 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.)
  5. Agreement to testify as a witness if the case goes to trial.

An Advocate Can Help You Navigate the Certification Process

The difficulties in obtaining a certification; particularly in situations where an agency might be willing to issue it only if you provide details you are not comfortable revealing or you become an unwilling participant in investigative activities (such as "wearing a wire" to obtain information); make it important to have an experienced immigration attorney or an advocate who is familiar with U visas at your side. The attorney can help you communicate and negotiate with law enforcement officials.

Some prosecutors' offices and police departments also have victims' 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.

Maintain Contact With Law Enforcement While in U Status

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.

Getting Legal Help

If you wish to apply for a U visa, it is best to contact an licensed, competent, and experienced immigration attorney to make sure you qualify and discuss your potential options. The attorney can help see whether your state's law requires law enforcement agencies to prepare the certificate of helpfulness for you, prepare paperwork, draft legal arguments on your behalf, and monitor your case's progress through the U.S. immigration bureaucracy.

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