Visa Guide: The U-Visa

Posted by Frank Gogol

Are you a victim of a crime involving mental or physical abuse and looking for a visa to stay in the U.S.? Are you also willing to work with law enforcement and government officials to expose the crime and put a stop to it?

You’ll be glad to know you might be able to qualify for a U-visa. Below you can find the eligibility criteria for a U-visa as well as more details on how a U-visa works.

What is a U-Visa?

A U-visa is a nonimmigrant visa. It’s specifically designed for people who have suffered from a crime that caused them physical and mental harm. A U-visa has an initial validity period of 4 years. It’s possible to get an extension, but only when qualifying circumstances are present (like a request from law enforcement).

A U-visa beneficiary may live and work in the U.S. as long as their visa remains valid. The immediate family members of a U-visa beneficiary may also be eligible for a visa.

Beneficiaries of a U-visa must work with law enforcement and government officials to aid in their investigations of the crime that caused the visa holder the abuse. The government specifically created this visa in 2000 to create a sense of security for people who are victims of crimes involving human trafficking and other similar misdemeanors.

U-Visa Qualifying Crimes

Here is a list of the crimes that qualify a victim for a U-visa:

  • 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

The crimes listed above will qualify a victim for a U-visa. Other related crimes may also qualify. Your best advice will, however, come from a qualified attorney. They would be able to advise you and also help convince the USCIS about our eligibility for a U-visa.

Difference Between U-Visa and Asylum

People sometimes confuse a U-visa beneficiary with an asylum seeker. There is a difference between a U-visa and an asylum seeker. An asylum seeker must comply with different eligibility criteria and this legal status applies to different circumstances.

Asylum seekers suffer persecution in their home country based on five grounds:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Nationality
  • Political opinion
  • Membership of a particular social group.

Asylum seekers fear moving back to their home country because of this persecution. They can apply for asylum in the U.S. to avoid this persecution. There are only a limited number of asylum seekers allowed a visa per year. The persecution they face must fulfill the description as set out by the U.S. government. Asylum seekers who successfully come to the U.S. may also be able to get a Green Card for asylum seekers.

U-Visa Requirements

The victims applying for a U-visa need to fulfill certain requirements. These requirements form part of their eligibility for an application.

The applicant must:

  • Have been a victim of qualifying criminal activity
  • Have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of having been a victim of the said crime
  • Have information concerning the crime
  • Have been helpful, is helpful, or likely to be helpful in the investigation or prosecution of the crime
  • Have suffered from a crime committed in the United States or which violated U.S. laws
  • Be admissible to the U.S. under current immigration laws and regulations.

Those victims who are inadmissible based on the above criteria can possibly apply for a waiver to become eligible for a U-visa.

U-Visa Application

There is an application process you’ll need to go through in order to obtain a U-visa. Here are the different documents you’ll need to complete the visa application.

Form I-918

Form I-918 is the actual application form for a U-visa. You can download a copy from the USCIS website. The form does not have a filing fee, but you may be required to pay for a biometrics screening test. You can ask if your fee may be waived.

You can send your application to the service center in Vermont. Here is the address:

Vermont Service Center

75 Lower Welden St.

St. Albans, VT 05479

Remember to sign your form. All unsigned forms are rejected.

Form I-192 – If Required

Form I-192 is used if you need to waive your inadmissibility with regard to U.S. immigration. Someone who is inadmissible is not allowed to travel across a U.S. border. But you can apply with a Form I-192 for your inadmissibility to be waived since you are applying for a U-visa.

Personal Statement

You must include a personal statement in your application. You need to describe the criminal activity in which you were involved. An immigration attorney can also help you with capturing your personal statement and applying for a U-visa.

Evidence of Your Eligibility

Above we looked at the different requirements to be eligible for a U-visa. You need evidence that proves you comply with each of these requirements. An immigration attorney will know how to help prove your case for eligibility if you are unsure.

U-Visa Cost

A U-visa itself has no costs involved. However, you might need to cover some costs if you use an immigration attorney. Form I-192 might also have some costs involved (if you are required to file one).

You have employment authorization with a U-visa but your family members might need to file for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) to be able to work. This process may also cost you money.

U-Visa Processing Time

There are many variables involved in the application process. So it’s impossible to say exactly how long it will take. However, current estimates indicate you may have to wait up to 5 years and possibly even longer. Unfortunately, there is about a three and a half year waiting time before the USCIS even starts working on your application. This is because are many applications in the queue waiting to be processed and the USCIS may only grant 10,000 U-visas per year.

It is important to remember that while you wait for your U-visa to be processed you have no legal status in the U.S. You are, therefore, at risk of deportation while you wait for your visa to be approved. If you are facing this risk your best option is to consult with a qualified immigration attorney.

U-Visa Green Card

Once you get your U-visa you may become eligible for a Green Card. You need to spend at least three years in the U.S. for a continuous period before you become eligible. There are many more requirements for a U-visa to Green Card application which you can find on the USCIS website.

It’s important to remember that you have to work with the law enforcement and government agencies who require your help to prosecute the criminal activity that harmed you. This is a requirement for the U-visa and in order to obtain a Green Card, you must keep your visa status valid during the 3 year period.

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Conclusion

There are many people in the U.S. who suffer because of the cruelty of other human beings and undergo severe mental and physical abuse. The U.S. government helps these people by providing them with the right to live and work in the U.S. They may stay in the U.S. on a U-visa if they cooperate with law enforcement and government authorities to investigate and/or prosecute these criminal activities.

Check your eligibility for a U-visa with the information supplied here and apply for your U-visa today.

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