Will a U Visa Ever Lead to a Green Card?

Find out which applicants can apply for permanent residence in the U.S. based on having held a U visa.

By , Attorney (Case Western Reserve University School of Law)

If you have received a U visa as a victim of a serious crime assisting U.S. law enforcement, you might be able to adjust your status to "permanent resident" (and receive your green card) after three years of continuous presence in the United States. You should apply for a green card as soon you can, because you must continue to be eligible as a U visa crime victim when you apply, and because your U visa expires in a mere four years. This article provides information about which U visa holders can apply for a U.S. green card.

To learn more about how to obtain a U visa, see U Visas for Crime Victims Assisting Law Enforcement: Who Is Eligible.

Which U Nonimmigrants Are Eligible for a U.S. Green Card

At the time you apply for a green card, you must continue to be eligible for U nonimmigrant status. This means that you must be in valid U status, and continue to assist law enforcement by providing helpful information to be used to investigate and prosecute the criminals who victimized you. You must not have abandoned this status in any way (for example, by refusing to cooperate with government agencies or by living outside the U.S. for an extended period of time).

You might be eligible to apply for permanent residence after meeting the following requirements:

  • you have been physically present in the U.S. continuously for at least three years
  • you have not unreasonably refused to cooperate with the U.S. law enforcement officials investigating and prosecuting the crime against you, and
  • your continued presence in the United States is justified either on humanitarian grounds, to ensure family unity, or is in the public interest.

You will have a more difficult time showing U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that you are eligible for a green card if your help is no longer necessary to investigate and prosecute the crime against you (for example, the criminal case is now closed and a government official will not vouch for your "helpfulness"). Be prepared to show that you have a long history of helping government officials, including a new certification from a qualifying government agency.

Keep reading for more information on the above-mentioned requirements for eligibility.

You Have Continuous U.S. Physical Presence of at Least Three Years

In order to successfully apply for U.S. permanent residence, you must provide evidence showing USCIS that you have lived in the United States continuously for three years. "Continuous" presence for immigration purposes means that you have not taken a trip outside the U.S. for 90 days or more or spent more than 180 days abroad during your time in U status.

For various reasons, it's best not to travel outside of the United States while in U status. However, if you did travel, you can demonstrate your continuous presence by documenting each trip outside the U.S. (to show that you were abroad only briefly) and providing proof that you now make your life in the United States. This can include copies of pay stubs, IRS tax transcripts, school records, and affidavits from people who know you who can attest to your U.S. presence.

If you can't show continuous presence in the United States, you will need to provide a written explanation by a government official working on your case stating that your presence outside the U.S. was necessary in order to assist the investigation or prosecution of the crime or that it was otherwise justified.

You Must Continue to Cooperate With Law Enforcement

In order to be eligible for a green card, you must continue to provide helpful information to law enforcement officials and cannot have "unreasonably refused" to provide requested assistance. Do your best to remain in contact with the certifying law enforcement agency during the pendency of your U visa, so as to maintain a positive relationship with the agency.

Ideally, you will submit another certification of helpfulness (Form I-918 Supplement B, U Nonimmigrant Status Certification) with your green card application as proof that you are a willing participant in the investigation and prosecution of the crime (or crimes) against you. For more on this, read What's Needed for a U Visa Certification of Helpfulness.

If you are unable to obtain another certification of helpfulness, contact an experienced immigration attorney to help you, because you will need to 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 do so for good reason.

Additionally, if you ever refused a request for cooperation, you must explain the reasons why. USCIS will determine whether the law enforcement request was "unreasonable" given a variety of factors. This will depend on the nature of the crime, your circumstances, and the extent of the assistance required.

For example, if you are a rape victim and a police investigator asked you to meet with your attacker, USCIS would consider it to be an unreasonable request, and you would be excused from refusing it. However, if a police officer asked you to identify your attacker in a lineup where he would not see you and you then refused, your denial might cost you a green card.

Your Residence Is Justified on Humanitarian, Family Unity, or Public Interest Grounds

U visa holders seeking green cards do not have to apply for a waiver of any inadmissibility grounds like many others do. The only ground of inadmissibility that applies to U adjustment applicants applies to participants in Nazi persecution, genocide, and extrajudicial killings. There is no waiver available for this ground.

However, adjustment of status to permanent residence from a U visa is a complete discretionary benefit, which means it is completely up to the USCIS officer adjudicating your case whether or not to grant it. Therefore, you should submit evidence with your application to show USCIS that you "deserve" a green card, such as family ties in the U.S., achievements and accomplishments, and any reasons why that you would be subjected to hardship if you were to return to your home country. This is especially important if there are any negative factors in your record (such as arrests or criminal convictions).

Your Immediate Relatives May Also Apply for U.S. Green Cards

If you have qualifying family members in the U.S. in derivative U status, the procedures to apply for adjustment of status are the same as for the principal U applicant.

However, if you have an immediate family member (a spouse, children, or parents; the latter if you are under age 21) who has never received U derivative status, your relative can also apply for adjustment of status or an immigrant visa at the same time you apply or after your approval. You can file Form I-929, Petition for Qualifying Family Member of U-1 Nonimmigrant, with USCIS.

You must show that you or your family member would be subjected to "extreme hardship" if you weren't permitted to reside together in the United States. This is not an easy task, so you should consult an immigration attorney to help you.

If You Qualify, Here's What's Next

Those who meet all the requirements can file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status (along with Form I-693, Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record) with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). For help with this, see articles on Applying for a Green Card From U Status and Adjustment of Status Procedures.

Getting Legal Help

Consulting with an attorney or a nonprofit organization can be a good idea to help you prepare a convincing application for USCIS. An attorney can assist you in gathering documentation that satisfies the relevant requirements and see your case to a positive decision.

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