U Visas Guide: Eligibility, Process, & More
According to the USAFacts, there were 1,313,105 violent crimes in the United States in 2020 and with homicide rates rising even further in 2021. Oftentimes, victims of these crimes live in fear of losing their life or getting emotionally abused.
The US government recognizes the problems plaguing the country. By introducing the U visa program, it aims to provide relief by granting victims certain rights and protections while keeping the communities safe.
In this article, we will go over everything you need to know about U visas, such as what it is, eligibility requirements, the application process, and more. If you’re looking for a U visa lawyer in Miami, FL then the Hans Burgos Law Firm is here to help!
Let’s get started!
Overview of U Visas
With the rising violence and human trafficking in the country, the US Congress felt the need to introduce reforms. In the year 2000, it passed a bill that required the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to introduce the U visa.
Under the U visa, successful applicants who have been victims of serious crimes receive a nonimmigrant status. However, before that, they must help or be willing to cooperate with law enforcement agencies to expedite the criminal case.
The U visa is a legal pathway that ensures the protection of victims but also incentivizes them to work with law enforcement authorities to help preserve the community’s well-being.
Eligibility Requirements for U Visas
There are three key requirements that potential applicants must fulfill before they can apply for a U visa, and these include the following:
The Immigrant Must Be a Victim of a Qualifying Criminal Activity
There is a complete list of the qualifying criminal activities under the U visa eligibility requirements, some of which include the following:
- Domestic violence
- Sexual assault
- Human trafficking
The Victim Must Have Endured Substantial Physical or Mental Abuse
Besides being a victim of a qualifying criminal activity, the immigrant must also have endured physical and mental injuries from the crime. They must provide relevant proof (medical and legal records) to qualify for a U visa.
There are three factors the USCIS will consider to determine whether the immigrant suffered severe mental and physical abuse, and these include the following:
- How much the victim suffered?
- How long did the victim continue to suffer?
- Is the victim suffering from permanent damage?
The Victim Must Be Willing to Cooperate with the Law Enforcement Agencies
Under the U visa eligibility requirement, the victim must be willing to help or cooperate with law enforcement agencies to expedite the criminal case.
By aiding law enforcement officers with the criminal case, the immigrants are not only securing legal status but also playing their part in holding the perpetrators accountable. This ensures that the community is safe for others.
Immigrants who are victims of a serious crime must contact an experienced immigration attorney from Hans Burgos Law Firm to help assess their situation and determine whether they’re eligible for a U visa.
What Are the Crimes That Qualify for a U Visa?
There are different types of crimes that qualify for a U visa, and some of these include the following:
- Domestic violence: An individual is eligible for a U nonimmigrant visa if they’re experiencing domestic violence. Coercive forms of marital rape, female genital mutilation, disfigurement, and choking or beating your partner are some examples.
- Sexual assault: This refers to touching an individual in a sexual manner without their consent. Groping, rape, forced sexual acts (with or without the use of drugs), and molestation are some examples of this.
- Human trafficking: This refers to the use of force or fraud to recruit or transport individuals for labor or commercial sex acts. Victims of human trafficking may qualify for a U visa if they meet the necessary requirements.
- Abduction: This type of crime covers the unlawful taking of a person or holding them captive against their will. Kidnapping, illegally detaining an adult, or any other form of forced captivity are some examples of crimes that fall under abduction.
- Other qualifying crimes: Besides the crimes mentioned above, there are other offenses that qualify for a U visa, including murder, false imprisonment, witness tampering, manslaughter, perjury, and obstruction to justice, among others.
Immigrants who are seeking a complete list of qualifying crimes under the U visa should visit the US Citizenship and Immigration Services website to read more about the eligibility requirement.
What Are the Benefits of a U Visa?
There are several benefits of obtaining a U visa, some of which include the following:
It Leads to Lawful Permanent Residence
A major benefit of applying for a U visa is that it provides a pathway to becoming a permanent resident in the United States. Once the USCIS approves the permit, the applicants receive a U nonimmigrant status for up to four years.
Successful applicants can also apply for a green card after they spend three consecutive years under their new legal status in the country.
It Gives the Immigrant the Right to Work in the United States
When the applicants get their U visa, they will also receive the Employment Authorization Document (EAD). This allows them to seek jobs or work in the United States legally.
The Visa Extends the Protection to Cover Family Members
Another benefit of applying for the U visa is that the successful applicants can extend the program’s benefits to certain family members, including spouses, children, parents, and unmarried siblings who are under the age of 18.
However, before the family members can receive their own derivative U permit, the primary applicant must’ve successfully obtained U-nonimmigrant visa status.
The Immigrants Get Access to Public Benefits and Services
U visa holders can enjoy different public benefits and services, similar to other lawful permanent residents in the United States. These include education, health care, housing assistance, and others.
What Is the Application Process for a U Visa?
Applicants must follow the steps below to initiate the application process:
Gather the Documents
The first step in the U visa process is to gather the necessary documentation to support the application. Some of the evidence applicants can submit to bolster their case are psychiatric evaluations, police reports, court records, and affidavits, among others.
Complete the Form I-918
Applicants must fill out and submit Form I-918 (a petition for U nonimmigrant status) to the USCIS. The details required in this document include biographical information and proof of eligibility.
Supplement the Application with the Form I-918B
Filling out Form I-918B is mandatory for all U visa applicants as it certifies that they helped or cooperated with the law enforcement authorities or are likely to be helpful in the investigation or prosecution of the qualifying crime.
Getting a law enforcement certification before moving forward with the application process is important.
Craft a Compelling Personal Statement
Applicants must prepare a personal statement describing the details of their situation. It allows them to explain their case to the immigration officer and provide additional context.
Submit the Application and Supporting Documents
Once the applicants have filled out the necessary forms and attached the supporting documents, they must send them to the USCIS.
Wait for the Decision
After submitting the U visa application, the USCIS will review it and make a decision. The processing time can vary depending on the circumstances of the case. The applicants may receive requests for additional evidence or be called for an interview.
Approval of the U Visa
If the USCIS approves the U visa application, the applicant will receive a Form I-797 Notice of Action. This confirms their U nonimmigrant status and allows them to work or access public services.
Contact an Experienced Immigration Attorney Today!
If you’re a victim of a serious crime and have suffered substantial physical and emotional abuse, contact (305) 442-1240 to schedule a consultation. The experienced immigration attorneys at Hans Burgos Law Firm will assess your case, guide you on what you need to know about U visas, and advocate for your rights!
Frequently Asked Questions
How Many U Visas Does the USCIS Issue Each Year?
The USCIS only approves 10,000 U visas annually and creates a wait list for all those who are eligible. This allows the applicant to receive employment authorization to work in the country until they receive their permit.
Is There a Validity on the U Visa?
The U visa is generally valid for a maximum of four years. During this time, individuals can work and live in the United States and also apply for an extension if their legal status is close to expiring.
Can U Visa Holders Apply for a Green Card?
Applicants with a U visa who have been living in the United States for at least three years can apply for a green card to become permanent US citizens.
However, one of the key requirements is to comply with all law enforcement requests.
Is There a Backlog of Pending U Visa Applications?
When you apply for a U visa, it is important to note that there is a serious backlog. This is because the US government issues only 10,000 permits annually, and there are more applicants each year.
Currently, more than 78,000 eligible applicants are waiting in line to receive a U visa.
Can the Family Members of Victims Also Apply for a U Visa?
Immigrants who apply for a U visa may be able to bring derivative family members depending on their circumstances. There are several permit statuses, including the following:
- A U-2 permit is for the victim’s spouse with a valid marriage certificate.
- The U-3 visa is for the victim’s children with valid birth certificates.
- A U-4 permit is for the victim’s parents. However, the primary applicant must be under 21 years old.
- The U-5 visa is for unmarried siblings who are under 18 years of age. However, the primary applicant must be under 21 years old
Is There a Difference Between a T Visa and a U Visa?
The key difference between these two types of visas is that the T visa is for victims of human trafficking, while the list of qualifying crimes under the U permit is much broader and of a serious nature.
Can the U Visa Dependents Work in the United States?
When an applicant receives a U visa status, they automatically get an EAD, which allows them to work legally in the United States. However, that is not the case with the victim’s dependents.
The victim’s family members who receive their dependent visas must apply for an EAD to work legally in the country. They can also work towards getting a green card (permanent residence) when the primary U visa holder (the victim) receives theirs.
How Long Does the U Visa Process Take?
Since there is a serious backlog, it can take around 12 to 18 months for an applicant to receive their nonimmigrant status. However, this can vary from one application to another, and the waiting times may extend if the USCIS officer requires further information or documents.
If you’re in the local area and you’re looking for a Miami immigration law office, then please reach out via phone or email.