U Visa for Victims of Criminal Activity
U-visas are available to certain crime victims who assist government officials (such as the police or prosecutor) in the investigation or prosecution of the criminal activity. If you are granted a U-visa, you will receive authorization to work in the United States for four years. Furthermore, once you have been in U-status for three years, you can apply for your green card through adjustment of status. However, if you do not apply for adjustment of status before your U-visa expires, you may no longer be eligible to apply and may lose your status.
The main requirements to obtain a U-visa are:
- You have suffered physical or mental abuse as a result of having been a victim of certain criminal activity within the United States;
- You possess information concerning the criminal activity
- You have been helpful, are being helpful, or are likely to be helpful in the investigation or prosecution of the crime; and
Please note that not any crime victim can apply for a U-visa. There is a list of certain "qualifying crimes" which allow you to apply for a U-visa, including as domestic violence, sexual assault or exploitation, "felonious assault," extortion or blackmail, to witness tampering. A complete list of qualifying crimes can be found at USCIS.
How to Apply
There are two basic steps to applying for a U-visa. First, you must obtain a certification from a law enforcement agency (such as a police department, prosecutor's office, judge, or certain other agencies). The agency must fill out and sign a specific immigration form that certifies that you were the victim of a qualifying crime and were helpful (or will be helpful) in the investigation. Without this form, you cannot apply for a U-visa. Once this form has been signed, you can then apply to USCIS for your U-visa. You must submit the certification form, the U-visa petition itself, and a personal statement describing the crime, its impact on you, and how you were helpful with the investigation. You should also submit any other evidence you can about the crime, your helpfulness, and its impact on you.
One important benefit of the U-visa is that most crimes and immigration violations (including fraud and deportations) can be waived through a U-visa application. That means that even if you have a deportation or conviction that makes you ineligible for most other immigration applications, you may still be eligible for a U-visa. This waiver application can be submitted with your U-visa petition.
A second important benefit is that certain family members can be included in your U-visa application, including spouses and minor children, and in certain cases, parents and siblings. The petitions for your family members can be submitted with your U-visa petition, or at some point after that.
What Happens After I Apply?
Unfortunately, there is now a long wait time for U-visa petitions. USCIS can only grant 10,000 U visas each year, but they receive many more applications each year (for example, in 2017, USCIS received over 35,000 applications). This means that, unfortunately, there is a very long wait list, and it continues to grow.
If you are in the United States while your U-visa is pending, USCIS can provisionally approve your case and place you in deferred action while you wait for your U-visa to become available. This means you can obtain a work permit and you will not be deported while you wait. This may take about two years or more from the time you initially apply. Unfortunately, if you are living abroad, you must wait until you receive your actual U-visa.
If your U-visa is approved, you will receive a work permit and will be in U-status for four years. Once you have had your U-visa for three years, you can apply for your green card. However, you must apply for your green card before the four years of U-status expire, or you may lose your status and will no longer be eligible for adjustment of status.