U Visa for Victims of Certain Crimes
In recent years, Congress has enacted various pieces of legislation addressing the vulnerabilities of our undocumented population as targets of criminal activity. Whether they fall victim to crimes relating to their person or property, the undocumented victim will likely think twice about reporting the crime to authorities for fear of having their immigration status uncovered and ultimately being deported. However, with the U visa option, certain undocumented victims of crime have a vehicle toward both temporary and permanent lawful immigration status in the U.S.
Whether they overstayed their nonimmigrant visa status, or merely entered the U.S. without any visa at all, the out of status/no status victim of certain crimes may apply for one of 10,000 U visas made available yearly. Even individuals in removal proceedings, or who are the subject of a final deportation or removal order may be eligible for U visa status. To qualify, the applicant must demonstrate:
- He has suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of being a victim of “qualifying criminal activity”,
- He is in possession of credible and reliable information, establishing their knowledge of essential details of the qualifying criminal act that is the subject of the U visa filing,
- He has been of assistance or will be of assistance to a law enforcement agency to investigate or prosecute the crime AND
- The criminal activity took place in the U.S. or U.S territory/possession (or violate certain U.S. federal law)
Qualifying criminal activity for U visa eligibility includes: abduction, blackmail, domestic violence, extortion, false imprisonment, felonious assault, incest, involuntary servitude, kidnapping, manslaughter, murder, obstruction of justice, perjury, prostitution, rape, sexual assault, torture, trafficking, unlawful criminal restraint and, witness tampering – among others.
An application for U visa status must be accompanied by a certification from a local, state or federal government agency, or a judge presiding over the prosecution at issue, confirming that the applicant is indeed providing the requisite assistance in the investigation or prosecution of the crime at issue. Once approved, a U visa applicant will qualify for employment authorization and eventually permanent resident status. Spouses, young children and even certain parents of eligible applicants may also be qualify for derivative U status, and eventually permanent residence as well.
The first step in seeking U visa status is to prepare Form I-918, and all supporting documentation, including a detailed applicant sworn statement confirming the exact circumstances surrounding the incident where they were a victim and the resulting emotional and physical consequences they suffered.
Due to extended processing times and the limited annual allotment of U visas, applicants may find themselves preliminarily approved, but without being issued the U visa itself. In such a case, a U visa applicant will be eligible to apply for an interim employment authorization document to hold them over until their actual U visa, with accompanying employment authorization, is issued.
Undocumented victims of criminal activity can find comfort in the protections the U visa provide. Unfortunately, the process of coming to terms with the reality that one has been the victim of a specified crime and trusting a law enforcement official in a U visa context is by no means an easy one. But with careful analysis and planning – especially with the support of experienced counsel like Richard Hanus and the Law Offices of Richard Hanus, a qualified U visa applicant not only helps bring justice to the perpetrator and society, but also benefits himself by securing a path toward legalizing their immigration status.