What is the U-visa?
Congress created the U-visa in an effort to encourage undocumented immigrants to report crimes and to feel confident in turning to local law enforcement for help. Being the victim of a crime can be a terrifying experience which may be made worse by threats of deportation if the crime is reported. The government has recognized that to fight crime, the police and prosecutors need the cooperation of victims. The U-visa was created for those who are without lawful immigration status, who have been the victim of a serious crime in the U.S. Additionally, the victim must prove that he or she has been helpful in the investigation of the crime and has suffered mental or physical harm as a result of the crime.
What are the benefits?
U-visas are typically granted for four years and provides for employment authorization during that time. After three years in U-visa status, you may be able to apply for adjustment of status to that of lawful permanent resident and receive a green card. Additionally, you may be able to include others in your application for U-visa status. Typically, spouse and children are eligible for U-visa derivative status. For those under 21, it may be possible to include your spouse, parents, children, and unmarried siblings under 18.
Are you Eligible?
An immigrant must be the victim of a specifically enumerated serious crime that took place in the United States. Those crimes include: rape; torture, trafficking, incest, domestic violence, sexual assault, sexual exploitation, kidnapping, false imprisonment, murder, manslaughter, felonious assault, and a couple of others. There is no time limit so even if the crime happened years ago, you may still be eligible. Additionally, the immigrant must ask the law enforcement agency to sign off on his cooperation/helpfulness in the investigation. Finally, there must be proof of substantial mental or physical harm as a result of the crime. It is best to obtain a copy of the police report, gather all relevant and consult with an informed immigration attorney, such as Cristina M. Hughes, to assess your eligibility. An experienced immigration attorney will understand the particular requirements of the U-visa and which documents are commonly used to satisfy those requirements.
What is the annual limit for U-visas?
Only 10,000 U-visas may be issued per fiscal year which begins on October 1. While the cap has been met consistently for the past few years, there is a waiting list. Once the application is considered approved, those placed on a waiting list are granted deferred action and are able to apply for work permits. Travel is not typically recommended during the U-visa process. While the wait may be daunting, often, the U-visa is an option that may be a last resort and is therefore worth it.
If you or someone you know has been the victim of a crime in the U.S., the U visa may be a good option to obtain lawful status. There are advantages that come with the U-visa which are not readily available in other immigration benefits. The U-visa is one way that victims of crimes can turn a difficult situation into an opportunity to move forward into a future of stability. Contact Cristina M. Hughes, Esq. an attorney with experience with the U-visa, to discuss your future today.