The U-visa (U nonimmigrant status) is a nonimmigrant type of US visa that is reserved for victims of crimes. People who have suffered substantial mental or physical abuse while in the US and who are willing to assist with the law enforcement process/investigation of the criminal activity could be entitled to remaining in the US, even if they wouldn’t have been capable of doing so otherwise.
U-Visa: An Overview
According to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website, the U-visa was created after the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 was passed.
The new law provides opportunities for law enforcement professionals to investigate and prosecute cases of domestic violence, sexual crimes, human trafficking, etc. in a more thorough way.
There are several qualification criteria for the application and the individuals interested in obtaining the U-visa will have to file I-918 – the petition for U nonimmigrant status.
To apply for the U-visa, you will have to meet various eligibility requirements, as presented by the USCIS.
In order to apply for the U-visa, you will have to:
Be the victim of a qualifying criminal activity
Establish the fact you’ve suffered substantial mental or physical abuse as a result of said criminal activity
Provide sufficient information about the criminal activity for the purpose of assisting law enforcement professionals (underage individuals or those who suffer from a disability could have a relative or a loved one cooperate with law enforcement professional on their behalf)
Show that the crime occurred in the US or violated an American law
Be admissible to the US (people who aren’t admissible can apply for a waiver on a Form I-192
The list of qualifying criminal activities is long and its available in its entirety on the USCIS website.
A few of the most prominent qualifying crimes include domestic violence, sexual abuse, extortion, fraud in foreign labor contracting, kidnapping, involuntary servitude, holding a hostage, murder, prostitution, slave trade, stalking, trafficking and unlawful criminal restraint.
How to Apply for a U-Visa or Get It on Behalf of a Family Member
The process of applying for a U-visa is a relatively simple one. Still, if you have questions or you’re not confident how to move forward with the process, a consultation with an immigration attorney could be your safest bet.
As already mentioned, you will need to fill out and file the I-918 form. In addition, you need to have Form I-918, Supplement B, U Nonimmigrant Status Certification signed by an authorized law enforcement professional. Through the signing, the law enforcement professional is confirming that you have been providing assistance during the criminal investigation and prosecution process.
Apart from these documents, you will also have to draft a personal statement outlining the criminal activity that you became a victim of. Finally, you should provide any kind of evidence that enables you to ensure the fulfilment of the eligibility requirements for the U-visa.
It’s also possible to apply for the U-visa if you’re not on the territory of the US.
To do so, it would be best to opt for a consultation at the nearest US embassy or consulate.
When filing on behalf of a qualifying family member, you will still have to go through the basic process as the principal petitioner. An additional document that will need to be signed is the Form I-918, Supplement A, Petition for Qualifying Family Member of U-1 Recipient.
All of the U nonimmigrant status petitions can be filed free of charge. Whenever additional forms have to be filled out and submitted, you have the option to request a fee waiver. To do so, you should either fill out and submit Form I-912, Request for Fee Waiver or you should simply write a request for the fee waiver on your own.
U-Visa Extensions and Caps
Once the U-visa is granted, it will be valid for a period of four years.
In certain limited circumstances, U-visa holders could benefit from the opportunity to extend the visa period.
An extension is possible whenever:
Law enforcement makes a request for prolonged cooperation with the victim
There are exceptional circumstances
There are delays in consular processing
There’s an option for automatic extension upon the filing of an application for adjustment (application for a Green Card)
Keep in mind there’s an annual cap on the U-visas granted. Currently, this cap is set to 10,000 visas. There are no limitations for the number of family members deriving status once the principal applicant has been approved.