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How to Legally Stay and Obtain a Green Card in the US When you Have Been a Victim of a Crime

What is a U-visa?

The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 created two new nonimmigrant visas for noncitizen victims of crimes, the T-visa and the U-visa. Both visas are designed to provide immigration status to noncitizens that are assisting or are willing to assist authorities investigating crimes.

The U visa is designed for noncitizen crime victims who have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse from criminal activity and who agree to cooperate with government officials investigating or prosecuting this criminal activity.

Your abuser does not need to be a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, and you do not have to have been married to the abuser to be eligible for a U visa.

As of December 2004, CIS had not yet issued regulations on U visas. However, CIS has issued guidance on providing interim relief for you if you are eligible for a U visa. This means that you cannot apply for a U-visa at this time, but you may be able to apply for temporary status until those regulations are issued.

After three years, U visa holders may apply for lawful permanent residence.

What is U-visa interim relief?

Because the CIS has not yet published regulations governing these visas, it is not yet possible to obtain a U-visa.

However, the CIS may grant temporary legal status, called U-visa interim relief, to those who are eligible until there is a process for applying. This temporary status is offered to victims until the U-visa regulations are published to ensure that they have a chance to apply for a U-visa.

The requirements for U-visas and U-visa interim relief are the same.

U-visa interim relief and employment authorizations are valid for one year. You must apply for an extension every year before the expiration of the current period.

If a U-visa isn't available now, is there anything I should do?

If you qualify for the U-visa, you may apply for U-visa interim relief. You should start gathering documentation to establish eligibility for U-visa status. These documents are the following:

  • proof of being victim of a crime
  • proof of suffering substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of the crime; and
  • proof of being helpful to law enforcement officials in the investigation and/or prosecution of the crime.
You should get a certification from a law enforcement official who is working with you in the investigation or prosecution of the crime that the conditions listed above are met. It is very important to obtain this certification from law enforcement officials as soon as possible, while you are involved in providing information and assistance. In this way, you will have the documents you need when the application procedure is in place.

What are the benefits of a U visa?

Approved U visa petitioners will be granted temporary legal status (US Green Card) and work authorization. After three years, you will be eligible to apply for lawful permanent resident status.

Up to 10,000 U visas will be available each year for eligible applicants.

Can I become a lawful permanent resident if I hold a U-visa?

Yes, once the U-visa regulations have been published and actual U-visas are issued. U-visas will allow you to apply to become a lawful permanent resident if:

  • you have been physically present in the United States for 3 years since you were issued the U-visa (or since you were given U-visa interim relief); or
  • you can show that your continued presence in the United States is supported by humanitarian grounds, to ensure family unity, or is otherwise in the public interest; or
  • CIS can decide, in its discretion, to reduce the three year wait to become a lawful permanent resident if it receives certification from law enforcement officials saying that they do not object.

    Note that the U-visa interim relief is not an actual visa, and it does not make you eligible for lawful permanent residence until the actual U-visas are available.

Am I eligible to apply for a U Visa?

Victims of a broad range of criminal activity listed in the legislation may qualify for U visas. Many of these victims will be women and children and include victims of domestic violence, nannies subjected to abuse from their employers, trafficking victims, and victims of rape in the workplace.

If you are already participating in removal (deportation) proceedings, you can still apply for a U visa.

To qualify for a U visa, you must show:

  • that you have suffered "substantial physical or mental abuse" as the result of one of the following forms of criminal activity (or "similar" activity) conducted in the US:
  • rape; torture; trafficking; incest; domestic violence; sexual assault; abusive sexual contact; prostitution; sexual exploitation; female genital mutilation; being held hostage; peonage; involuntary servitude; slave trade; kidnapping; abduction; unlawful criminal restraint; false imprisonment; blackmail; extortion; manslaughter; murder; felonious assault; witness tampering; obstruction of justice; perjury; or attempt, conspiracy, or solicitation to commit any of the above mentioned crimes.
  • that you possess information concerning the criminal activity;
  • that you can provide a certification that states that you are being, have been, or are likely to be helpful to the investigation or prosecution of the criminal activity. (This certification must come from a federal, state, or local law enforcement official, prosecutor, judge, or authority that is investigating the criminal activity.); and
  • that you are otherwise admissible to the US (that you are not barred from the US for any reason).
Judges are well qualified to provide the certification that you will need to obtain this protection. Certifications also may provide information on the mental or physical abuse you have suffered. They may also state that you possess information concerning the criminal activity.

Can family members benefit from the U-visa?

Certain family members of persons granted U visa status can also qualify for a U- visa. These include the spouse and children of the principal applicant granted U status (as long as the spouse was not the person who committed the crime against you). Where the applicant is a child crime victim, the parent may qualify as well.

To qualify as a family member, a designated government official must certify that an investigation or prosecution would be harmed without the assistance of the qualifying relative. The USCIS must usually determine that the qualifying relative would suffer extreme hardship if a U visa is not granted, however in some cases you do not have to prove this "extreme hardship" requirement.

For more information on special sorts of visas for victims, read our webpages on the T Visa (Visa for Victims of Human Trafficking), S Visa (Visa for Informants of crimes), and VAWA protection for battered spouses (Self-Petition process to obtain Green Card without spouse).



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