The 6 Most Important Things About U-Visa
A U-Visa is available to victims of crimes living in the United States regardless of race, religion, gender, or social class. Many times, victims of crimes are also not citizens of the United States whether the non-citizen has lawful status or is undocumented. These non-citizens often were afraid to come forward and report the crime afraid that it may lead to deportation. To help rectify this evil, the U.S. Congress passed the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act in 2000. As part of this Act, Congress included a special provision within the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”) to help non-citizens who are or were the victims of certain crimes. As a result of this Act, the U Visa category was created.
1) What is the Process to Apply for a U-Visa?
Non-citizens who are or have been the victim of one of a specified list of crimes in the United States may qualify for the U Nonimmigrant Visa, or “U Visa.” The U Visa process encompasses to parts. First, the non-citizen must obtain “certification.” This process is separate and apart from the immigration agency’s process. Once certification has been obtained, the non-immigrant must prepare and submit their U-Visa application.
2) What are some of the Benefits of a U-Visa?
Once a U-Visa is approved, the non-immigrant will be given a visa for 4-years. The U-Visa recipient is then eligible to adjust status in the third year of their visa. After adjustment of status the person is will receive a green card and will be on a path toward naturalization. Aside from the ability to eventually become a U.S. citizen, a person on a U-Visa will also receive work authorization.
3) What is the Certification Process for a U-Visa?
Before submitting the U-Visa application to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS,”) the non-citizen must first get their case “certified.” Certification is handled by a relevant “Law Enforcement Agency,” or “LEA.” These agencies include, 2)office, the judge in the case, child protective services, certain prosecuting agencies, and many more. Because certain cases do not make it to court, each case may present different options for “certification.” Certification is completely discretionary, meaning some crimes may be certified with little effort, while others will not be certified due to a policy to decline certification from the LEA. We have experience in obtaining certification from dozens of LEAs, and will be able to discuss the possibilities you have in succeeding at the certification level.
4) What are the Crimes that Qualify for U-Visa?
Not all victims of crime are eligible for a U-Visa. The INA lists 26 specific crimes that qualify for U Visa eligibility including certain criminal categories that encompass a much wider array of criminal activity. For example, one criminal category under the U-Visa is “Felonious Assault.” Practically, this could be anything from felony assault and battery, to severe felony-level personal attacks. An immigration attorney will often argue eligibility of a crime if it does not specifically fit within the 26 specific crimes. Each case is different, since the classification and facts of the crime itself will often determine whether a non-citizen will even qualify for a U Visa. That is why it is important to have an immigration attorney that knows what he or she is doing. Contact us to discuss whether the U-Visa is a feasible option in your case.
5) How do you apply for a U-Visa?
Once a non-citizen has received certification from the proper LEA(s), it is his or her burden to prove their qualification to the USCIS. The certification is only valid for 6 months, meaning the case must be filed with USCIS no later than 6 months after date of signature. The non-citizen must prove that they suffered or are currently suffering extreme and unusual hardship as a result of the crime. This could take numerous forms, including physical, mental, psychological, and medical hardship, among more. The crime’s qualification must also be argued to USCIS. The process as of today takes a very long time because only one USCIS service center handles these applications and there is such a high volume of applications, the wait time on adjudications is currently around two years.
6) Is it Worth Applying for a U-Visa?
U-Visa holders must wait a long time to get their visa. However, we have often seen cases that seem approvable with USCIS get “deferred action,” meaning that USCIS will grant the non-citizen work authorization. This generally takes about 12-18 months. Upon approval, the U-Visa provides the non-citizen with work authorization and “status” for four years. The third year, the non-citizen may apply for his or her lawful permanent residency.
One substantial benefit of the U-Visa is that it may be filed alongside an application that is capable of waiving many grounds of inadmissibility. In a nutshell, certain non-immigrants who would otherwise be unable to gain benefits through an employer or family member may qualify through the U-Visa.
The U-Visa was established to help bring criminals to justice. It was Congress’s intent to help non-citizens, who are often worried about reporting crime to the police, come forward and make their case known to the authorities. By aiding non-citizens, it lowers the reluctance of these individuals avoiding reporting the crime, thus making our communities safer for everyone, citizens and non-citizens alike.