Immigrants who find themselves the victims of crime often deal with long-lasting physical and mental trauma. If you are an undocumented immigrant who has been the victim of a crime, you may be eligible for a U visa. The U visa is a nonimmigrant visa available to victims of certain crimes who have suffered mental or physical abuse and who help law enforcement in the investigation and/or prosecution of the crime.
In order to be eligible for a U visa, you need to have been a victim of a qualifying crime. In addition, you need to have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of being the victim. You also need to have information on the criminal act and have been, be, or are likely to be helpful to law enforcement during the investigation and/or prosecution. If you are under the age of 16, or if you have a disability that affects your ability to contribute to the case, a parent, guardian, or friend who speaks on your behalf but is not part of the case can help with the investigation or prosecution on your behalf. Being eligible for the U visa also requires that the crime of which you were a victim either happened in the U.S. or violated U.S. laws. Lastly, you must be admissible to the U.S., meaning you are permitted by law to remain in the country. If you are inadmissible, there is a waiver that you can apply for with the help of an immigration attorney at the same time you apply for the U visa.
If you meet the requirements described above, you can apply for the U visa both inside and outside of the U.S. Many people apply for the U visa, but only 10,000 people are allowed to receive it each year. If 10,000 people receive their U visas before the year is over, USCIS will place the remaining applicants on a wait list for the next year.
As a result of the limited amount of U visas available and the high number of applicants, there is a large backlog of cases. After filing a U visa application, it currently takes about 4 years or longer to hear if you have even made the waitlist. If you make the waitlist, you may have to wait several more years to finally receive your U visa.
There are also certain risks that U visa applicants face in light of this current administration. In the past, U visa applicants were rarely detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and if you were denied the U visa, you were usually not at risk of deportation. However, since the 2016 election, this has been changing rapidly.
There have been incidents of ICE detaining immigrants that they knew were victims of crime before the immigrants even had the chance to apply for a U visa. Moreover, by applying for a U visa, immigrants are informing the U.S. government of their unlawful presence in the country. In April of 2018, ICE reported that around 122,000 U visa applications were pending. All of these people are at risk for being placed in deportation proceedings. If your application is pending and you are in proceedings, it is at the discretion of the immigration judge to decide whether or not he or she will delay your removal proceedings while the U visa application is pending. Also, if you are not put into proceedings while your application is pending, you will likely be placed in proceedings if your application is denied. This was rare in the past, but with the current administration, more and more denied applicants are being placed in removal proceedings. If you are wondering whether applying for the U visa is worth the risk, contact an immigration attorney. The attorney will review your case and advise you in the right direction.
If an immigrant is successful in obtaining a U visa, there are many benefits. First, if you are the victim of a crime applying for a U visa, you can petition for some of your family members to get U visas as well. If you are under 21 years old and have a U visa, you can petition for your spouse, children, parents, and single siblings who are under 18. If you are at least 21 years old, you can petition for your spouse and children. Second, having a U visa is beneficial because it gives you and the family members you petition for the authorization to work in the U.S. If you are put on the waiting list due to the 10,000 visa per year cap, you will be able to apply for your work authorization while you wait for your visa to become available. The third reason having a U visa is an option worth considering is that after you hold your U visa for at least three years, you may become eligible to apply for a green card.
Contact our office if you have been a victim of a crime and want to know if you qualify for the U visa. If you qualify, then our attorneys will work with you to prepare the application to show the U.S. government that you deserve a U visa.