While many visas offered by the U.S. government are designed to help people achieve their career and family goals, sometimes a visa is needed to help foreign nationals escape serious physical or mental abuse. This is the idea behind the U Visa, which was designed to provide assistance to victims of human trafficking and other forms of violence. This page was designed to offer some general information on u-visa regulations and help visitors to this page decide if they should consult an immigration attorney. The following topics are covered on this page:
- U Visa Basics
- U-Visa Crimes
- Applying for a U Visa
- Applying for a Green Card
- Can My Family Join Me?
- Do I Need a Lawyer?
U Visa Basics
Each year, the U.S. government makes available roughly 10,000 U Visas to persons who have suffered physical or mental abuse, or are helping, or who have helped a criminal investigation. Those who have suffered abuse must have been victims of qualifying criminal activity. To learn more about specific u-visa crimes, see the section on qualifying crimes below.
During the application process, the foreign national will be required to submit documentation of the abuse, which could include police reports, court reports, affidavits from school officials, clergy or medical personnel, as well as other documentation.
Under u-visa regulations, foreign applicants need to be victims of certain qualifying criminal activity. Qualifying u-visa crimes include: abduction, blackmail, domestic violence, false imprisonment, assault, forced labor, female genital mutilation, manslaughter, murder, prostitution, rape, stalking, torture, as well as other crimes.
Victims of qualifying u-visa crimes have suffered direct or proximate harm as a result of one of the specific crimes named in the statute. In order for a foreign national to establish they have been a victim of u-visa crimes, they must have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse. Official affidavits from medical, school or church personnel, as well as court and police records, demonstrate evidence of this abuse.
The amount of time granted by a U Visa is typically four years. However, extensions may be granted if a certifying official attests that the foreign national’s cooperation is necessary to continue an investigation or prosecution.
Applying for a U Visa
A foreign applicant can file for U Visa can under a number of circumstances. For instance, a foreign national might file while facing deportation or a removal hearing. However, foreign nationals not facing deportation can also file a petition. Whatever the case, the primary form filed is A Petition for U Nonimmigrant Status (Form I-918). This document is filed with US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
The petition must contain a signed statement by the petitioner describing the victimization, as well as proof of the physical or mental abuse.
If a u visa is granted, the foreign national will automatically be granted employment authorization.
U Visa to Green Card
Under current u-visa regulations, a foreign national with u status can become eligible to adjust status and obtain permanent residence. Those granted permanent residence are eligible to live and work in the U.S. for 10 years or more. The document signifying permanent resident status is the green card.
In order to be eligible to apply for a green card, the U-Visa holder must have lived in the U.S. for a continuous period of three years. However, if it is determined that the foreign national with u status unreasonably refused to assist in a criminal investigation or prosecution, he or she can be found ineligible for permanent resident status.
In order to adjust status, u-visa regulations require that the foreign national file an Application to Adjust Status (Form I-485) with US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The foreign national must also submit a photocopy of his or her U status approval as well as an affidavit of three years physical presence in the U.S.
Can My Family Join Me?
In many cases, yes. Spouses and unmarried children (younger than 21 years of age) can apply for U-2 status. Under current U-visa regulations, the primary u visa holder must be 21 years of age or older in order to be accompanied by immediate family.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
Persons who are fleeing abuse and applying for a u visa are not required to hire an attorney. However, those considering a u visa have significant concerns beyond how to properly file government documents.
In some cases, U-visa applicants are fleeing abusive situations and facing deportation hearings.
Because of the high stakes involved, it is recommended that foreign nationals thinking about applying for a u visa contact a qualified lawyer. It’s important to remember that simple filing errors can lead to a denial of application.
An attorney’s job is to help the client navigate a vast federal bureaucracy and avoid costly or time-consuming errors in the process. If you have questions about u-visa crimes or u-visa regulations, contact our office to see how we can help.