U Visa Overview
In October 2000, the United States Congress created the U nonimmigrant status program (U visa) to help protect victims of crime and violence as well as to facilitate prosecution of guilty perpetrators. The status was created as part of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act, which includes the Battered Immigrant Women’s Protection Act. The U Visa allows victims who have helped or could help government officials or law enforcement agents prosecute and punish illegal actions. This often involves testifying in court and giving evidence of mental and physical damage. The purpose of the U visa program is to be able to hold criminals accountable for domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, and other criminal offenses.
U Visa Eligibility
In order to qualify for a U Visa, victims of violence can refer to the list of qualifying criminal activities. If the person in question has been subject to substantial physical or mental abuse resulting from a listed criminal activity, he or she can consult with a government or law enforcement agency. If an official has decided that the person has been helpful or can be helpful in providing evidence or information about the crime, the person can begin the process of filing for U nonimmigrant status. It is important to note that victims who have suffered substantial emotional or physical trauma from the incident or under the age of 16 can choose a parent, guardian, or “next friend” to testify in their place during court proceedings. A “next friend” can be an adult of the victims choosing who then is appointed as the victim’s guardian.
Filing Process: Primary and Derivative U visas
If a person meets all the eligibility requirements, he/she can begin the filing process. The first required document is the Form I-918, Petition for U nonimmigrant status. Those applying for U nonimmigrant status must also complete Supplement B of Form I-918, which needs to be signed by a government official or law enforcement agent, confirming that the applicant is or will be a part of the prosecution process. Furthermore, if an applicant has problems with admissibility, he or she should complete Form I-192, which can waive the inadmissibility. Other application components include a personal statement by the victim, including testimony about the crime or violent incident, and evidence of each eligibility requirement. The application process for the U visa is free, and if the victim incurred any cost from filing forms related to obtaining status, he/she can apply to waive the fees.
If you are applying for a U visa from foreign country, a few more steps are involved. The applicant must visit the closest U.S. Embassy or Consulate to have fingerprints taken and participate in an interview with the consular officer about the violence or criminal activity. Additionally, the victim must file all the forms mentioned above with the Vermont Service Center.
Family members of the U visa applicant are typically able to obtain derivative U visas. If the victim is under the age of 21, his/her spouse, children, parents, and unmarried siblings under age 18 are eligible to apply for the U visa derivative. On the other hand, victims above the age of 21 can have their spouse and children complete the application for derivative U nonimmigrant status. In order to file for family members and relatives, primary U visa applicants should fill out supplement A of Form I-918.
U Visa Stay Duration
Both primary and derivative U visas allow for a maximum of four years of residency in the United States. However, extensions can be granted for a couple of reasons. First, law enforcement or government officials can request an extension of the U visa in case the U visa status holder is still needed for the prosecution of perpetrators. Additionally, slow-downs or delays in the process at the consular office can at times result in extension of the U visa. Furthermore, the law recognizes that “exceptional circumstances” can be reason for extension. Lastly, if a visa holder is in the process of applying for a Green Card, he/she can have U nonimmigrant status extended until the process is complete.
Those who obtain U nonimmigrant status are automatically allowed to work within the United States. Family members and relatives who have derivative status are also permitted to work in the country, but they must apply for work authorization.
U Visa Caps
When Congress created the U visa program, the representatives also instituted a cap of 10,000 U visas per year. However, this cap does not apply to derivative U Visas, meaning that U visa holders are not limited in the number of family members who may apply. Those who are unable to apply for U nonimmigrant status because of the cap will be placed on a waiting list. During this time period, people on the waitlist are allowed to be granted deferred action or parole. Additionally, they may apply for work authorization.
Applying for a Green Card
U visa holders may be able to apply for a Green Card if they meet the eligibility requirements. First, U visa status holders must have resided in the United States for three continuous years with U visa status. Secondly, law enforcement agents and government officials must acknowledge that the the U visa holder has not unreasonably obstructed the prosecution process in any way. If the U visa holder meets these requirements, he/she can begin the application process for the Green Card.
Once the applicant receives a Green Card, he/she may not request any additional derivative U visa for a family members or relatives who would have qualified but did not apply during the time that the applicant had the U Visa. However, U visa holders can look into extending their U visa status in order to make sure that family members or relatives can maintain their derivative U visas. If eligible, these family members and relatives can also file for a Green Card if the primary U visa holder files Form I-929. If this is approved, then family members and relatives can apply for the Green Card. At times, family members or relatives who never had derivative U visas could also be eligible for Green Cards.
Should you have any questions or if you would like to schedule a consultation, please contact me by submitting the form or by calling me at (917) 426-8227 or (248) 630-3239. I accept clients from across the U.S. and around the world. My law offices are conveniently located in Lower Manhattan, New York and in Troy, Michigan for in-person meetings. For phone consultation, you can reach me from any part of the United States or abroad.