What Is a U Visa?

When an immigrant is the victim of a serious crime, they're allowed to get a U visa. This lets an immigrant stay in the country. Without it, they'd return to their home country, and American law enforcement officials wouldn't have the information they need to solve the crime. The government created this law in 2000 to convince witnesses to testify.

Recently, the U visa has grown more popular. In 2009, only 10,000 people applied, while 21,000 were on the waiting list. By 2016, 60,000 applicants asked for U visas while 150,000 were stuck on the waiting list. It's a huge problem, since the government gives out only 10,000 U visas each year. The current waiting list of victims approved for a U visa is 78,066.  

Because of the huge waiting list, government officials changed the rules for U visa applicants. People now wait in the United States instead of the country they came from. Even though they don't have a U visa, the government grants them temporary status while they wait for the visa.

How Does a U Visa Work?

A U visa lets an immigrant live in the United States legally for up to four years. A court may even extend their time in the Unites States in special cases. As long as a person holds a U visa for three years, they can apply for a green card, making the person a legal American resident.

What Are the Benefits of a U Visa?

In addition to the green card, a person with a U visa has government authorization to find work in America. Their family members can also receive this authorization.

Which Government Agencies Offer a U Visa?

All levels of law enforcement can offer a U visa. Federal agencies sometimes offer them, but most U visas come from the state and local levels. Prosecutors and judges are the most likely officials to offer a U visa in exchange for testimony.

Who Qualifies for a U Visa?

A person must prove they're a victim of a major crime. To do so, the immigrant needs a certificate of helpfulness from an approved government agency. The applicant also must show they've suffered either physical or emotional abuse because of the crime.

An earlier immigration violation doesn't stop a person from getting a certificate of helpfulness. Someone previously ruled inadmissible just has to take an extra step. They need a waiver to cancel the earlier ruling.

The rules for getting a certificate of helpfulness are:

  • Victim of a crime committed in America or in violation of American law
  • Proof of abuse
  • Holder of key information about the crime
  • Considered helpful by law enforcement in bringing the criminal to justice

As long as the victim meets these criteria, they fill out the Application for Advance Permission to Enter as a Non-Immigrant, Form-192. It grants U visa status.

The main requirement to be given a certificate of helpfulness is proving serious mental or physical abuse. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will need proof. They'll need medical and legal records supporting the claim. They will take three factors into consideration in determining whether the suffering was severe:

  • Amount of suffering
  • Length of time the victim suffered
  • Potential of permanent damage to the victim

Children under the age of 16 can't qualify as the helpful person. The responsibility falls to their parent, guardian, or next friend. This person will relay information about the crime. The government will refer to them as the helpful applicant.

What Are Recent Statistics About U Visa Applications?

Various government agencies have different rules about visa applications. Some organizations will automatically reject any request based on a crime that is older than a year. Others won't confirm visas for crimes such as vandalism and battery. 

People arguing for visa reform take issue with the fact that the USCIS isn't the only decision-maker on visa rulings. 

Here are recent visa application statistics for the state of California:

  • 36 different government agencies got 7,108 applications
  • These agencies approved 5,356 applications while refusing 1,489
  • The application rejection rate was 27.8 percent of the recorded data

What Is the Process for Getting a U Visa?

A backlog exists in U visa applications. A person may wait five years or more to receive their visa. The USCIS is more than two years behind in reviewing U visa applications. The explanation is that the government can grant only 10,000 of these visas each year.

The USCIS still works on applications after they reach the limit. They simply can't issue visas once they reach the limit. The government places an approvable application note on a waitlist application in the interim. This is called deferred action status.

People qualifying under this status can apply for a work permit that lasts for two years. It's also renewable if additional delays occur with the visa application.

Note that a person who is the victim of a crime can apply for a U visa. This is true even when the victim faces a deportation. Upon approval of the visa, the holder should file a motion to reopen the deportation order in Immigration Court. Someone facing immediate deportation should file a stay.

To apply for a U visa, an immigrant worker must:

  • Fill out Form I-918. This is biographical information about the worker, family workers, and proof of eligibility.
  • Fill out Form I-918, Supplement A. This document is optional. It's for applicants petitioning for qualifying family members. The person must fill out one supplemental form per family member.
  • Fill out Form I-918, Supplement B. This supplement is mandatory. It's a status certification that the applicant qualifies for as the victim of a crime.
  • Provide supplemental evidence. The applicant adds a personal statement about the crimes they saw and the injuries they received. Any evidence that supports the claim is helpful to the application. 

Potential evidence includes:

  • Doctors' reports
  • Therapy session notes
  • Police reports
  • Court documents
  • Psychiatric evaluations

Note that qualifying family members for Supplement A vary depending upon the age of the applicant. A person under 21 can petition for siblings under 18, parents, a spouse, or children. Workers above 21 cannot petition for siblings or parents, but they can still request visa status for a spouse or children.

Can a U Visa Holder Change to Green Card Status?

A U visa work permit lasts four years. After year three, the holder has the right to ask for permanent residence in the United States. This is the green card process

How Is a U Visa Different From a T Visa?

A U visa is for any victim of a serious crime. A T visa is specific to victims of sex trafficking, but a U visa can cover sex trafficking offenses as well. An immigrant should choose the type of visa that law enforcement officials believe is easiest to prove. U visa applicants must work with law enforcement more than T visa holders, though.

Which Crimes Are Worthy of U Visas?

  • Obstruction of Justice: Hiding evidence, interfering with witnesses, and lying on the stand are the major examples.
  • Sex Crimes: Sex trafficking isn't the only qualifying crime. Rape, incest, sexual assault, prostitution, sexual exploitation, and genital mutilation are all covered.
  • Enslavement Crimes: Abduction and kidnapping are major examples, but forced labor, human trafficking for nonsexual purposes, slavery, and false imprisonment also qualify.
  • Violent Crimes: Anything from assault and battery with a deadly weapon to robbery can qualify, depending on the state and opinion of law enforcement. Crimes that lead to death, such as vehicular homicide, manslaughter, and murder, are the most frequent examples.
  • Foreign Labor Fraud: This crime wasn't part of the original law. A statute added it in 2014. It occurs when someone in the United States knowingly hires a noncitizen under false or fraudulent pretenses about employment.

A crime doesn't have to be finished for a victim to earn a U visa. As long as they witness the attempt, they can give evidence that can help send the criminal to jail.

Why Does the Government Offer U Visas?

Law enforcement officials face many challenges in fighting crime. Areas with a lot of immigrants have high crime rates. Part of the reason is that officials cannot press charges without eyewitnesses. Immigrants who are victims of crime have plenty to lose by testifying with little to gain.

The U visa gives immigrants long-term residency in the country in exchange for key testimony. Before the U visa was available, criminals targeted immigrants since the felons knew no one would testify against them. The U visa helps the government punish criminals who were previously getting away with their actions.

Can Family Members Receive U Visas?

An immigrant doesn't want to stay in the United States without their family. That's why the government also offers U visas to family members. The eligible people are:

  • Parents (if the victim is under 21)
  • Children (if they are under 21)
  • Spouse
  • Unmarried siblings under 18 (as long as the main person getting the U visa is under 21)

The only other rule is that the family member must have strong moral character. The government doesn't want more criminals staying in the country, which is why it added this section.

How Does the Timing Work?

Since an applicant must help law enforcement officials catch the criminal, timing matters. As soon as a person is the victim of a crime, they should tell the police. Then, they should give the most detailed description of events possible. That way, they'll increase the odds of the criminal getting caught. In the process, the immigrant will have a better chance of getting a U visa.

By waiting too long, the victim runs the risk of a successful prosecution taking place without them, leaving them ineligible for a U visa. California state senate research shows that police officers won't offer one if a crime took place more than a year ago. Technically, no statute of limitations exists, but time is of the essence in proving a case.

How Much Is a U Visa?

The application process is free. Law enforcement officials don't want to discourage immigrants from applying. Some other documents could have fees, but the applicant can ask not to pay. Also, some legal defense organizations and charities will pay them if the applicant can't.

Obtaining a U visa is a difficult process. If you're in need of one, hire an attorney. You can post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace, where our experts average 14 years of legal experience.