The “U” visa: for victims of crime, including domestic violence
First Quarter, 2010
For years we have had a law that provided immigration benefits for women who were abused by spouses who were U.S. citizens or Legal Permanent Residents (VAWA). This left an enormous number of women with no “effective” legal recourse or protection, women who were unmarried, or who were abused by non U.S. citizens or residents. These women were oftentimes forced to remain in abusive relationships because they lacked “legal status” in the U.S. and were afraid of denouncing these crimes to the authorities for fear of being deported. With the U visa available, victims of crime no longer have to worry about their own legal status in order to be able to denounce a crime; as the U visa provides an avenue through which undocumented immigrants and their immediate families may gain legal status in the U.S., if they cooperate with the authorities in the prosecution of the crime.
Below are answers to some of the most common questions about the U visa.
- 1. What is a “U” visa and who is it designed to help?
- 2. Does a person have to be in status or have entered legally to apply for a U visa?
- 3. Can the victim of any crime apply for a U visa?
- 4. What type of assistance to the government does a victim have to provide in order to qualify for a U visa?
- 5. What happens if the government does not want to proceed with a criminal case? Can you still apply for a U visa?
- 6. Can family members of the victim obtain any immigration benefit from the U visa?
- 7. What type of damage or what type of suffering does a victim have to endure in order to qualify to apply for a U visa?
- 8. What if the crime was committed by someone who is not a U.S. citizen or a resident? Would the victim still qualify for a visa?
- 9. How long does a U visa last?
- 10. Can a person with a U visa and their family members obtain residency?
- 11. Can family members get a U visa status if they do not live in the U.S.?
- 12. How long does it take to get a U visa processed?
- 13. What type of documents are needed to process a U visa?
1. What is a “U” visa and who is it designed to help?
The U visa program was designed to provide relief in the form of immigration benefits for victims of crimes here in the U.S. and in some rare circumstances, to individuals that are outside the U.S.
2. Does a person have to be in status or have entered legally to apply for a U visa?
No. A person does not have to be in-status to be eligible to apply for a U visa and U visas are available to individuals regardless of how they entered the U.S. (with or without a visa).
3. Can the victim of any crime apply for a U visa?
No. There are only particular crimes of which victims are eligible for immigration benefits. The most common ones involve: domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, obstruction of justice or witness tampering, kidnapping, extortion, felonious assault, and the solicitation to commit any of these crimes, among others. Although the list of crimes has limitations, the USCIS will generally give benefits to victims of crimes that either directly or indirectly involve some form of violence.
4. What type of assistance to the government does a victim have to provide in order to qualify for a U visa?
A victim must demonstrate that he/she provided information about the crime of which he/she was a victim to the law enforcement agency or the court, and that he/she provided assistance in the crime’s prosecution, or that the assistance was not unreasonably withheld.
5. What happens if the government does not want to proceed with a criminal case? Can you still apply for a U visa?
The government does not have to initiate, proceed with or complete a criminal case in order for a victim to be able to apply for a U visa.
6. Can family members of the victim obtain any immigration benefit from the U visa?
Yes. Immediate family members (children, spouse and parents of the victim) are eligible for the same benefits as the primary beneficiary or victim, which include permission to live, study and work in the U.S. If the family members are outside the U.S., they may be able to obtain permission to enter the U.S. with a U visa status.
7. What type of damage or what type of suffering does a victim have to endure in order to qualify to apply for a U visa?
The victim has to have endured physical and/or psychological suffering and the applicant should present records that document this suffering. For example, counseling records from a therapist or hospital records that identify that the treatment the victim is receiving or has received is a result of an injury related to a crime.
8. What if the crime was committed by someone who is not a citizen or a resident? Would the victim still qualify for a visa?
Yes. Unlike the VAWA law that only provides benefits to victims of abuse if the perpetrator is a U.S. Citizen or a legal permanent resident, the U visa law provides immigration benefits to victims regardless of the immigration status of the perpetrator of the crime. For example, if a person is a victim of domestic violence and the abuser has no lawful immigration status, the victim is still eligible for the U visa and all its benefits.
9. How long does a U visa last?
A U visa may be approved initially for up to four years and also may be renewed for an additional period of time.
10. Can a person with a U visa and their family members obtain residency?
Yes. After 3 years of holding the U visa, the person and derivative beneficiaries (immediate family members that were granted a U visa through the victim or primary beneficiary) may apply for resident status.
11. Can family members get a U visa status if they do not live in the U.S.?
Yes. Immediate family members may apply for a U visa status as derivative beneficiaries of the victim of a crime.
12. How long does it take to get a U visa processed?
U visas are generally processed within 9 to 12 months from the time of submission of the application to the USCIS.
13. What type of documents are needed to process a U visa?
Evidence of the suffering that the victim has endured as a result of the criminal conduct, a signature from a qualified official certifying the victim’s assistance, and evidence that the crime is one that is set forth under the law or that substantially involves an action similar to those crimes.