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.
The T-visa is for victims of severe forms of trafficking in persons who assist in the investigation or prosecution of trafficking and who would suffer extreme hardship involving unusual and severe harm if they were deported.
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. This includes collecting: 1)proof of being victim of a crime , 2)proof of suffering substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of the crime; and 3) 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 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?
Maybe. 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: 1) 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. 2) that you possess information concerning the criminal activity; 3) 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 4) 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.
Is there a list of contents that must be included in the U- visa application?
Yes, below is a list of contents that must be included in the U visa application (and the interim relief application). Remember to consult with a shelter worker, immigration attorney, or a domestic violence or immigration organization to help you gather the required materials. 1) cover letter (this should be a “road map” for the CIS examiner)
applicant’s declaration (must be detailed, describe the abuse, and how the application meets each U visa requirement), 2) personal information (including some form of identification), 3) description of the crime committed-can include any of the following
U Visa certification form : a) a police report of the crime, b) a copy of a restraining order and c) any documents used to obtain the restraining order documents showing substantial physical and/or mental abuse-can include any of the following:
- can be detailed in the applicant’s declaration;
- declarations of witnesses to the abuse;
- declarations of police, health care workers, etc…;
- medical reports documenting the effects of
- physical or mental abuse to the applicant;
- reports or evidence of appointment with counselors, shelters, etc…; and/or
- photographs that show the abuse
- law enforcement certification signed within the last 6 months showing the following (note that there is no official form or format for this certification):
- must state that the applicant was a victim of one or more crimes protected by the U Visa;
- must identify the crime(s); and
- must verify the victim is, has been, or is likely to be helpful to the prosecution or investigation of the criminal activity
Where do I send my U-visa interim relief application?
U visa interim relief applications should be sent to:
VAWA Unit, Box
75 Lower Welden St.
Saint Albans, Vermont
Be sure to write “DO NOT OPEN IN THE MAILROOM” in large red letters on front of envelope.
How is my current temporary visa affected by U visa interim relief?
If you have a current temporary (non-immigrant) visa, you can apply for a U- visa or U-visa interim relief. If you are granted U-visa interim relief, you will have to cancel your current nonimmigrant visa and not renew it.
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 CIS must unusually 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.
Should I, as a U-visa applicant, go to CIS for “interim relief”?
You may not want to go to the CIS for “interim relief,” even if you think you qualify as a potential U-visa applicant. There is always the possibility of deportation if you do not have a current legal status. Because there are not yet regulations on the U visa, there are many questions about how CIS will interpret the eligibility requirements. If you are currently undocumented and you approach CIS for U visa interim relief, you could be deported if your U visa application is denied. In all cases, you should consult with an immigration expert. S/he can help you figure out if you are likely to qualify or if there is a risk of being deported.
If I have been the victim of domestic violence, should I apply for VAWA or for a U-visa?
It depends. Some victims of domestic violence can seek immigration status under VAWA and do not need to wait for the U visa to be implemented to seek legal status. If you are an abused spouse or child of a lawful permanent resident or
US citizen, you are eligible to self-petition to gain lawful status under VAWA. Victims of domestic violence who are not married to the abuser, or who have been abused by spouses who are not US citizens or lawful permanent residents, are not eligible to self-petition under VAWA, but may seek status under the U visa.