If you have been the victim of a crime, you may qualify for a U-Visa, which gives you four years of lawful status in the United States and work authorization. More importantly, after three years, you may apply for adjustment of status, assuming you meet the requirements, which means that your U-Visa could lead to a green card, and possibly even citizenship further down the road. For that reason, a U-Visa can be a significant immigration benefit.
The legal requirements
The U-Visa was introduced in 2000 as a way of encouraging undocumented immigrants to cooperate with law enforcement when they have been the victims of a crime. To obtain a U-Visa, you must show that you (1) were the victim of a qualifying crime; (2) that you were, or are willing to be, helpful to law enforcement; and (3) that you were hurt mentally or physically as a result of the crime.
There are numerous crimes that could lead to a U-Visa, including domestic violence, slavery, any kind of sexually-based violence or exploitation, kidnapping, murder, false imprisonment, obstruction of justice, and many others.
Helpful to law enforcement
Here, you need only show that you either have, or are willing to be, helpful to law enforcement. It does not matter whether the offender was ever prosecuted. Although it is easier to obtain a U-Visa if the crime was recent, you could conceivably obtain a U-Visa for a crime that occurred 20 or 30 years ago, assuming you were helpful to law enforcement.
There are many ways to show that you have been helpful to law enforcement. Calling the police, cooperating with investigations, giving statements, and testifying in open court are all ways in which you can prove that you have been helpful.
The harm requirement
The key here is that you suffered either mental or physical harm as a result of the crime. If the crime occurred in the past, you do not have to prove that you continue to suffer the harm. You need only show that the harm did occur. To prove that you satisfy the harm requirement, you should obtain statements from friends or mental health professionals, and submit any photographic or medical evidence you may have to document your injuries.
Most people who apply for a U-Visa have done things that ordinarily make it difficult to obtain immigration benefits. For example, they may have prior criminal convictions, or a history of unlawful presence or unauthorized employment. Fortunately, there is a waiver available for U-Visa applicants (Form I-192), and it is a very generous waiver. It covers nearly any ground of inadmissibility (except for certain national-security violations), and you need only prove it is in the national or public interest to grant it.
The procedural requirements for a U-Visa
(1) Law enforcement certification
The first step in seeking a U-Visa is obtaining a law enforcement certification using Form I-918, Supplement B. Although there are many government agencies who may give these certifications, your options, in reality, are a bit more limited. Specifically, you must determine where the crime occurred and which agencies were involved in the investigation and prosecution.
(a) Who to ask?
Most applicants will have three chances to get a law enforcement certification: they can either ask (1) the police department that investigated the crime, (2) the prosecuting office that filed charges, or (3) the judge who presided over the trial. If other agencies, such as ICE, played some role in the process, you may ask them as well.
(b) What do you have to lose?
If you cannot obtain a law enforcement certification, that is the end of the story, even you strongly believe that you satisfy the requirements for a U-Visa. But it is still worth trying for U-Visa. Unlike other forms of relief, where you must approach immigration authorities directly, the U-Visa merely requires you to approach criminal law enforcement agencies. USCIS does not become involved until after you obtain the certification, so if you are not successful in that first stage, it ends there, and you have not necessarily alerted yourself to immigration authorities. So it is worth trying, especially if you do not have many other options for legalizing.
(2) Filing the application itself
Once you obtain the law enforcement certification, the next step is to file the U-Visa application (Form I-918) package, which should include the certification, waiver application, and all supporting evidence. There is no interview for a U-Visa, so you should take your time and put together the strongest application package possible.
The annual cap for U-Visas
Only 10,000 U-Visas a year may be granted, and not surprisingly, the huge demand for U-Visas has created a backlog of roughly 50,000. So even if your application for a U-Visa is approved, you still may have to wait anywhere from three to five years to receive your U-Visa. The good news is that, while you wait, you will receive deferral of removal (i.e., a promise from the government that they will not deport you) and work authorization.
Cost for applying for a U-Visa
Although it is free to apply for a U-Visa, most applicants will require a waiver, and that waiver has a filing fee of $585.
If you are interested in applying for a U-Visa, contact me today.