A U visa is a special type of immigration status available to victims of certain types of crimes who have suffered mental or physical harm or abuse and have demonstrated that they have assisted (and will continue to) law enforcement and government officials in the investigation and/or prosecution of the criminal activity. The U visa or U status is not a green card but it does provide protection from deportation and work authorization for the individual. Additionally, it allows the grant holder to apply for permanent residence after three years of having U status. So, in a way, the U visa provides a potential pathway to permanent residence.
In order to file for a U visa (if you are abroad) or U status (if you are in the US), you must first determine whether you are eligible to apply.
- In order to qualify, one must have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of having been a victim of a qualifying crime, and that you have information that can lead to the arrest and prosecution of the offense. Qualifying crimes include offenses involving domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, felonious assault, and other serious types of conduct. You must also demonstrate that you have been helpful, are being helpful, or are likely to be helpful to law enforcement in the investigation and prosecution of the offense.
- The applicant must obtain a certification from a law enforcement agency verifying that the person has been, is, or is likely to be helpful in the investigation or prosecution of the act of which the person was a victim. Importantly, the document—which is called the I-918B—can only be signed by an official who has authorization to issue the certification, such as a designated official from a police department, prosecutor’s office, or even a judge.
- The I-918B must be accompanied by a completed I-918 and filed with the appropriate department of USCIS. Successful applications will ordinarily include proof of identity, proof of having been a victim of the crime, proof of substantial harm from the crime, as well proof of cooperation and helpfulness with law enforcement.
Unfortunately, due to the extremely limited numbers of grants allowed per year, there is a significant backlog which translates into years of processing time. Just because you have filed for U status does not mean you have the status while the case is pending. However, due to recent changes in policy, you may be eligible to apply for and even receive early work authorization while the case is pending.
The above is only a general overview of the process. However, people who are interested in applying should consult with a qualified immigration attorney who can determine whether they have viable cases, the risks and benefits of applying, and identify any potential legal issues, such as whether a waiver of inadmissibility will be necessary.
The above is general information only. It is not specific legal advice nor intended to create an attorney client relationship. If you need advice, please consult with an attorney.