What is the U visa?
U Visa is a US nonimmigrant for victims of criminal activity who have suffered mental and physical abuse. It was designed for two reasons:
- To protect victims of crimes who are not U.S. citizens.
- Collect information on crimes.
- The U visa protects victims by giving them legal status in the United States where US law enforcement can support them against crimes committed. Additionally, the victim who obtains U visa status provides valuable information to police and other law enforcement agencies regarding the crime. This information can then be used to track down the criminal and make a conviction.
Am I eligible for the U visa?
To qualify for the U visa, the crime must have occurred within United States territory. Furthermore, the victim of the crime must meet several criteria, including:
- Be a victim of one of the crimes listed below.
- They have suffered physical or mental abuse as a result of the crime.
- Be willing to cooperate with the US government regarding that crime.
- Have information regarding the crime that they share with law enforcement. If the victim is under 16, they may ask a family member or guardian to share information on their behalf.
- The victim is eligible as a nonimmigrant to the United States. If the victim is not eligible, he or she must submit Form I-192, Application for Advance Authorization to Enter as a Nonimmigrant. If this form is approved, the inadmissibility will be revoked.
What crimes qualify you for U nonimmigrant status?
To better define what the U visa can be obtained for, the U.S. government has listed the types of crimes for which victims can apply for U visa status. The following crimes qualify for U nonimmigrant status:
- Kidnapping Abusive sexual contact Blackmail
- Domestic violence, extortion, false imprisonment
- Female genital mutilation, criminal assault and fraud in foreign labor contracts
- Hostage Incest Involuntary Servitude
- Murder by kidnapping and manslaughter
- Obstruction of Justice Peonage Perjury
- Prostitution, rape, sexual violence
- Sexual exploitation, slave trafficking, stalking
- Torture, witness trafficking, tampering
- Unlawful criminal coercion Other similar crimes
- However, even attempting, conspiracy or incitement to commit the crimes mentioned above may be sufficient to obtain a U visa.
What are the benefits of the U visa?
Victims who are granted U visa status have the right to remain in the United States for the duration of their visa. They become legally nonimmigrants and have the following rights:
- Open a bank account.
- Get a driving license.
- Enroll in an academic or professional study.
- Work as legal employees.
- Work as a U visa holder
- The last part which includes the right to work is automatic for U visa holders. Immediately after the victim is granted U status, he gets the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) and there is no need to submit Form I- 765, application for employment authorization to obtain it. With the EAD, U visa holders can work in any legal field and in any capacity, whether full-time or part-time. Furthermore, they do not need to find work immediately, but the EAD gives them the right to work only when they want or feel able to do so.
How to apply for U visa?
When you apply for a U visa, you will need to complete a few main steps to get your visa. These steps are listed and clearly explained below:
- Cooperate with law enforcement to obtain victim status.
- Fill out the online application form.
- Gather the required documents and submit them to USCIS or the US Embassy.
- Wait for your visa to be processed.
- After visa approval.
- Cooperate with law enforcement to obtain victim status
- You should seek law enforcement certification and assist them in the identification, investigation and/or prosecution of the qualifying crime of which you are a victim. Law enforcement will then decide whether to sign the Form I-918 and/or Schedule B.
Fill out the online application form:
To begin the process of applying for a U visa you must complete Form DS-160, Application for Nonimmigrant Visa. The form is online and is the first step in applying for any non-immigrant visa. When you submit all your information and the details of the visa you are applying for, you will receive a confirmation page and number, which you will need to file your documents.
Gather the required documents and submit them to USCIS or the US Embassy:
If you are in the United States at the time of your application, you must submit these documents to USCIS:
Form I-918, Petition for Nonimmigrant Status U.
- Form I-918, Supplement B, U Certification of Nonimmigrant Status. This is your readiness certification that is issued by a law enforcement official and agency. It must indicate that you were helpful in the criminal case or that you will be helpful in the future for a successful investigation.
- A personal statement describing your situation, the crime you were a victim of, and the abuse you suffered.
- Police and court documents showing that you were a victim of the crime.
- Medical records from doctors and hospitals showing that you suffered significant physical or mental abuse directly as a result of the crime. This may involve letters, photographs or affidavits.
- Documents proving your identity, such as a valid passport or birth certificate.
- Letters from family and friends describing your abuse due to the crime.
- If you are ineligible due to past immigration violations, you must file Form I-192 and have it approved.
- DS-160 confirmation page.
- A US visa photograph that meets the photography requirements.
- Wait for your visa to be processed
- USCIS then reviews the petition for admissibility and requests additional evidence if necessary. If you meet the criteria for a U visa, but have reached the legal limit for the fiscal year (10,000 per year), USCIS will place you on a waiting list.
After visa approval:
Once your visa is available, USCIS reviews your file to check your eligibility again. If it is determined that you qualify, your application for U nonimmigrant status will finally be approved.
If applying from outside the United States:
If you are outside the United States, you need to follow these steps:
- File all of the above documents at the Vermont Service Center.
- Schedule an interview at the nearest US embassy and obtain a visa appointment letter.
- Interview a representative of the US Embassy.
- Whether you are applying from inside or outside the United States, you must get your petition approved by USCIS to qualify for the U visa. When USCIS approves your petition, you will receive a Form I-797 , Notice of Action, which you will need to attach to your documents. Additionally, you will be required to submit biometric information to USCIS or the Vermont Service Center. In addition to photographs, fingerprints are also included.
How much does it cost to submit a U visa application?
Since this applies to victims of crime and violence, the application process is free. There are no fees to pay, but there are fees for submitting some forms. However, to avoid these fees, you may request a waiver by submitting a written request or Form I-912, Fee Waiver Request.
How long does it take to process the U visa?
You have to wait for USCIS to process your application once you submit it. Unfortunately, U visa processing takes some time. It can take 12 to 18 months for your U visa to be processed and approved.
Processing times can vary greatly, however, as, for example, if you are required to submit additional evidence to USCIS, processing times may become longer.
How long does the U visa last?
From the moment your U visa application is approved and stamped in your passport, it is valid for up to 4 years. During these 4 years you are allowed to live and work in the United States as a nonimmigrant.
When your status is about to expire, you can request an extension from USCIS. Extensions are made by completing Form I-539, Application for Extension/Modification of Nonimmigrant Status.
Nevertheless, getting this extension is extremely challenging and only depends on the following factors:
- Your information is needed by law enforcement.
- You are needed in exceptional circumstances.
- There are delays in consular procedures.
Is there a limit for the U visa?
The U visa based on US government guidelines has a limit. This means that a limited number of visas are issued each year. In total, no more than 10,000 U visas may be granted in a fiscal year. This includes only the main claimants, i.e. the victims, and not their family members or dependents.
If there are too many applications in a year, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which is responsible for these visas, may create a waiting list for those who qualify for the U visa. They are granted work authorizations while waiting, and when more U visas become available, they will get them automatically.
Can someone with a U visa apply for a green card?
When you have a 3-year U visa, you are eligible to apply for a Green Card. To be eligible for permanent residency in the United States, in addition to having the 3-year U visa, you must also have complied with U.S. law enforcement requests. Thus, you had to have told the authorities all you knew about the crime and not kept anything a secret.
What are the visas for family members of crime victims?
As mentioned above, with a U visa, under some circumstances you can bring your spouse, children, parents, and siblings with you to the United States. After you obtain your U visa, you can file a family member petition by completing Form I-918, Supplement A, Petition for Qualified Family Member of U-1 Recipient.
The U visa for crime victims provides different types of status granted to the primary victim and derived family members. These are the types of visas for dependents of U visa holders:
- The U-2 visa is a derivative U visa for the spouse of the U-1 visa holder. The United States only accepts legal marriage that can be demonstrated through certificates and ceremonies and no longer accepts spouses.
- The U-3 visa is for children of the U-1 visa holder who have valid birth certificates.
- The U-4 visa is for parents of U-1 visa holders. The U-1 visa holder must be under 21 years of age for parents to be eligible for a U-4 visa.
- The U-5 visa is for unmarried siblings under the age of 18 of the U-1 visa holder. For siblings to be eligible for a U-5 visa, the U-1 visa holder must be under 21 years of age.
- Notwithstanding the fact that there are five different kinds of U visas, only the principal U-1 visa holder’s visa has to be accepted and in effect for other family members and dependents to be allowed to apply for one.
What can U visa dependents do?
If your family members are eligible and have approved U dependent visas, they can also apply for work authorization and begin employment. Their EADs will not be granted automatically, but they will have to apply for them.
Additionally, if you are awarded a Green Card, your family members may also apply for one by completing Form I-929, Petition for Qualified U-1 Nonimmigrant Family Member. This application must be submitted individually for each family member.
What is the difference with the T visa?
The T visa is only granted to victims of human trafficking, whereas the U visa is available to victims of any serious crime. This is the primary distinction between the two types of visas.