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U Visa: IMMIGRATION RELIEF FOR VICTIMS OF CRIMINAL ACTIVITY

The nonimmigrant U visa was created by U.S. Congress under the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000.  It was later amended by the Violence Against Women Act of 2005 and reauthorized by Congress as the Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2013 (VAWA).  This immigration relief was introduced in the law to assist law enforcement agencies in the investigation and prosecution of cases such as domestic violence, sexual assault, trafficking, among others while offering protection to crime victims.

This humanitarian relief provides legal status to victims of certain serious crimes who have suffered substantial physical or mental harm and can demonstrate cooperation with law enforcement in the investigation and prosecution of criminals.  To qualify for this benefit, the individual must meet the following statutory eligibility requirements.

  • The individual must have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of having been a victim of a qualifying criminal activity.
  • The individual must have information concerning the criminal activity.
  • The individual must have been helpful, is being helpful, or is likely to be helpful in the investigation or prosecution of the crime.
  • The criminal activity violated U.S. laws.

Qualifying criminal activity includes: rape, torture, human trafficking, incest, domestic violence, sexual assault, abusive sexual contact, prostitution, sexual exploitation, female genital mutilation, hostage, peonage, involuntary servitude, slave trade, kidnapping, abduction, false imprisonment, blackmail, extortion, manslaughter, murder, felonious assault, witness tampering, obstruction of justice, perjury, attempt/conspiracy or solicitation to commit any of the above crimes.

Even if these requirements are met, certain circumstances may make a person inadmissible to the U.S.  Some of the circumstances include: entering the U.S. without inspection, committing certain crimes or offenses, lying to Immigration authorities, claims to U.S. citizenship.  A waiver application may be available for individuals to ask Immigration to overlook the unlawful act.

A U visa, if favorably adjudicated, will allow victims of a qualifying crime to remain in the United States on a temporary basis.  The period granted is four (4) years and during that time U visa holders are eligible for work authorization.  After having U visa status for three (3) years, individuals can apply for lawful permanent residence status if they meet certain conditions.  Additionally, a person applying for U visa category can get benefits for certain family members as derivatives.

Family members of victims may be considered as derivative beneficiaries on a U visa application if the following conditions are met:

  • The victim is less than 21 years of age and the family member is the spouse, child, unmarried sibling (under 18 years of age on the date the application was filed) or parent of the victim
  • The victim is 21 years and older and the family member is the spouse or child (unmarried and under age 21) of the victim.

To file a U visa, the individual must first obtain a certification from law enforcement, court officials, social services agents, department of labor (the appropriate agency that has jurisdiction over the investigation or prosecution).  Once the signed certification is obtained, the individual must gather documentation to satisfy all the eligibility requirements.

It is crucial to consult with a competent immigration attorney experienced in U visas to properly analyze your eligibility and determine if there are inadmissibility issues that may negatively impact your application.

 FACTS ABOUT U VISAS

  • Only 10,000 visas are issued each year nationwide.  More than 89,600 U visas have been issued to victims and their family members since the program was implemented in 2008.
  • According to a USCIS press release, USCIS has approved the statutory maximum of 10,000 petitions for U visas for fiscal year 2014.  This is the fifth year in a row that the cap has been met since USCIS began issuing U visas in 2008.

 

 

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