By:  Richard Hanus, Esq.

Published June 27, 2021

Undocumented foreign nationals in the U.S. who have been the victim of certain types of crimes have a potent option in the U visa to legalize their status and eventually attain U.S. permanent residence (green card) and even citizenship.  Now that option is even more powerful as a recently announced policy will allow applicants to have a chance to obtain an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) – allowing for lawful employment while waiting out the current 5 year processing backlog.

The U visa was created by our Congress in 2000 with the idea that victims of crime who live in the U.S. in violation of our immigration laws should be unafraid to report criminal acts to law enforcement authorities and be witnesses for the prosecution.  The U visa affords the victim protection from the event they fear the most – being forcibly removed from the U.S., while at the same time heightening the chances that criminals in our society will face justice.  Availability of U visas is limited to 10,000 per year and according to recent statistics there are currently close to 160,000 applications pending.

As to basic requirements:  the foreign national must be a victim of one of the following crimes – or one substantially similar, (including attempt, conspiracy or solicitation to carry out such a crime):  Abduction, Abusive Sexual Contact, Blackmail, Domestic Violence, Extortion, False Imprisonment, Female Genital Mutilation, Felonious Assault, Fraud in Foreign Labor Contracting, Hostage, Incest, Involuntary Servitude, Kidnapping, Manslaughter, Murder, Obstruction of Justice, Peonage, Perjury, Prostitution, Rape, Sexual Assault, Sexual Exploitation, Slave Trade, Stalking, Torture, Trafficking, Witness Tampering, Unlawful Criminal Restraint.

Other application requirements include: a) demonstrating that as the victim of the subject criminal activity, you suffered substantial physical or mental abuse and b) obtaining a certification from a law enforcement agency or judge confirming the underlying crime and the applicant’s cooperation with the prosecution of the perpetrator as a victim-witness.

According to a policy announced in recent weeks, U visa applicants will no longer be forced to wait 5 years to have a chance of obtaining evidence of legal status, such as an employment authorization.  Instead, at the outset of processing, applicants will undergo security and criminal background checks and an initial vetting to confirm genuineness of the U visa certification and the overall basis of their application.  Passing this initial stage of review will lead to issuance of an Employment Authorization Document, a dramatically life changing event for the applicant.  The EAD is key to the establishment of some semblance of a normal life in the U.S., allowing the applicant to secure lawful employment, a social security card and a driver’s license/state identification.

Hopefully, applicants waiting on the processing of their U visa will see this policy put into action sooner rather than later.

PUBLISHED June 27, 2021– “IMMIGRATION LAW FORUM” Copyright © 2021, By Law Offices of Richard Hanus, Chicago, Illinois