U Visa Overview
U Visas can provide temporary immigration status to victims of a qualifying crime or criminal activity and have suffered substantial mental or physical abuse.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will determine if you are eligible for a U visa based on information provided by law enforcement. This information includes evidence that you are a victim of a crime, have information related to the criminal activity, and/or are willing to help law enforcement investigate the crime.
What Is a Qualifying Crime?
Law enforcement and the USCIS look at specific crimes to determine U visa eligibility. The USCIS also considers criminal activities that violate federal, state, or local laws as qualifying crimes for U visa eligibility.
Qualifying crimes include the following:
- Being held hostage
- Domestic violence
- False imprisonment
- Felonious assault
- Fraud in foreign labor contracting
- Involuntary servitude
- Obstruction of justice
- Sexual exploitation
- Slave trade
- Witness tampering
- Unlawful criminal restraint
These are only a fraction of the crimes recognized by the USCIS. The complete list can be found here. Crimes like those listed above or the conspiracy to commit one of these crimes also qualify according to the USCIS.
For example, if someone is conspiring to kidnap another person but has not yet committed the crime, the USCIS will still recognize the intent as a qualifying criminal activity.
Law enforcement authorities at the federal, state, and local level can certify a crime. If more than one authority is involved in a case, like the FBI and local police, for example, either one may certify a crime for a U visa. For a U visa to be accepted by the USCIS, certification from law enforcement is required.
While certification is necessary for a U visa application, it does not guarantee that the USCIS will approve the documents and grant a visa. The USCIS follows an independent process for background checks of the individual applying for a U visa, as well as any family members included on their application.
What Is Substantial Physical and Mental Abuse?
The USCIS offers those who have suffered “substantial physical and mental abuse,” but what does this mean?
While physical abuse is more quantifiable than mental abuse, both should be carefully evaluated. The USCIS has list of contributing factors to help with interpretation.
According to the USCIS, factors to consider include:
- The nature of the injury
- The severity of the perpetrator’s actions
- The severity of the harm the victim suffered
- The duration of the abuse
- The extent of permanent harm to the health and mental wellbeing of the victim
- Aggravation of pre-existing conditions
This list helps provide a starting point for determining if substantial physical and/or mental abuse was suffered by the victim. Ultimately, final decision is based on objective factors, like those listed above, and subjective factors specific to each victim’s individual experience.
When Do You Need a Waiver (I-192)?
Form I-192 is a waiver that allows inadmissible immigrants to apply for advance permission to temporarily enter the United States. This means that if you are not able to enter the U.S. for medical, criminal, or security reasons, you can complete an I-192 to waive your inadmissibility status.
Keep in mind that there are grounds for inadmissibility that will not be waived. These include genocide, torture, extrajudicial killing, and Nazi persecution of specific groups. Other grounds for inadmissibility can be waived using an I-192.
If you are currently inadmissible to the U.S. you should complete Form I-192 before you file for a U visa.
What Can a U Visa Do?
U visas help victims of criminal activity work with law enforcement to investigate crimes and protect possible witnesses. Because it is a nonimmigrant visa, it cannot provide permanent residential status, but a U visa can act as a steppingstone in the process.
A U visa can provide:
- Temporary immigration status, including work authorization
- Temporary immigration status for family members of the victim
- The possibility of lawful permanent resident status
Overall, U visas offer victims of crimes a way to seek safety and they help investigators build a case against those responsible for the criminal activity. A U visa recipient can then apply for permanent residency after spending three years in the United States.
The Application Process
The application process for a U visa can be tedious, and you must follow the necessary steps to be approved. If you are applying domestically, you submit your application directly to USCIS. If you are overseas, you also have to follow additional steps to go through the U.S. embassy. Information regarding specific procedures at the consulate or embassy in your country can be found here.
Application approval from the USCIS is not the same as receiving your visa. Your case must go through further processing before the Department of State can issue you a U visa.
U visas offer victims of criminal activity the opportunity to participate in the investigation and, hopefully, allow for prosecution of those who hurt them. The application process is complex and can vary from country to country.
When dealing with multiple law enforcement authorities and complicated documentation, it is vital that you work with a qualified attorney.
If you are looking to apply for a U visa, contact The Law Office of Yifei He, PLLC today.