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“U” Visas for Crime Victims

Visas for Victims of Crime – The U Visa Program             

Updates to the U Visa Program:

The 2005 amendments to the Federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) made it easier for crime victims’ children under the age of 21 to gain legal immigration protection if their parent (the crime victim) was cooperating or “helpful to” a potential or existing criminal prosecution or investigation.

VAWA 2005 eliminated the hardship or separate certification requirement and added certain siblings as a category of derivative family members. U visa applicants 21 and older may include spouses and children. U applicants under 21 may include spouses, children, parents and unmarried brothers and sisters
under 18 on the date the U applicant files for status.

Siblings who were under 18 at the time the primary visa applicant (crime victim) filed for U interim relief if the principal U applicant is under 21 years old may now be eligible for a visa. Plus, any qualified children who couldn?t meet the requirement that the applicant would suffer extreme hardship if her child was not given temporary legal status under the U visa program and the child was not essential to the success of the criminal investigation or prosecution.
 
VAWA 2005 also changed the length of the U visa from being granted for three years to four years and even longer if a law enforcement official certifies that  the U holder’s presence is required to assist in the ongoing prosecution or investigation.
 
 The “U” Visa:  BACKGROUND & FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
 
What is the U Visa? 
 
The U visa was created to aid law enforcement in obtaining cooperative assistance from victims of violent crime who would otherwise be deterred from reporting such crime to the police because of threats to their immigration status or due to being illegally present in the U.S.  If the noncitizen “has been helpful, is being helpful, or is likely to be helpful to a Federal, State, or local law enforcement official, to a Federal, State, or local prosecutor, to a Federal or State judge, to the Service, or to other Federal, State, or local authorities investigating or prosecuting criminal activity” described below, CIS will grant a U visa to the noncitizen alien. 
 
The U visa is now available to be issued to applicants and once approved, the applicant is granted work authorization valid for four years in most circumstances.
 
If the “Attorney General considers it necessary to avoid extreme hardship to the spouse, child, or in the case of an alien child, the parent of the noncitizen alien with the U visa, the Attorney General may also grant status to the noncitizen’s family members if the investigation or prosecution would be harmed without their presence in the U.S.
 
What are the basic requirements to obtain a U Visa?
 
To qualify for the U visa, an applicant must meet the following requirements:
 
(1)    Petitioners must have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse? resulting from criminal activity outlined in the statute (domestic violence, rape, assault, battery, are some of the covered criminal activity);
 
(2)    The criminal activity must have taken place in the U.S. or violated U.S. laws;
 
(3)    The petitioner must possess information concerning the criminal activity;
 
and
 
(4)    The petitioner must have a certificate or other affirmation by a designated law enforcement official that she has been helpful, is being helpful, or is likely to be helpful to an investigation or prosecution of the criminal activity.  Usually, this means that the petitioner must have reported the criminal conduct to the police.
 
What kind of crime qualifies for the U Visa?
 
The criminal activity must involve one or more of the following or any similar activity in violation of Federal, State, or local criminal law:

rape; torture; trafficking; incest; domestic violence; sexual assault; abusive sexual contact; prostitution; sexual exploitation; female genital mutilation; being held hostage; peonage; involuntary servitude; slave trade; kidnapping; abduction; unlawful criminal restraint; false imprisonment; blackmail; extortion; manslaughter; murder; felonious assault; witness tampering; obstruction of justice; perjury; or attempt, conspiracy, or solicitation to commit any of the above mentioned crimes.

Does the person who committed the crime have to be in valid immigration status (i.e., a LPR, US Citizen, or visa holder)?
 
No.  The U visa program is unique, in that the abuser or perpetrator of the crime can be undocumented or illegally in the U.S. The immigration status of the abuser or person who committed the crime against you does not matter for purposes of you obtaining a U visa.  Example: Your boyfriend or girlfriend attacks you, you call the police. Immigration will not care that you are not married and that your boyfriend or girlfriend is here illegally.
  
Can the petitioner add or cover a family member in their application?
 
The U visa lists as possible derivatives (people who can be granted legal status under the U visa program who are related to the main victim) spouses, parents, and children of the petitioner. A derivative will be able to obtain work authorization after the petitioner’s U visa is issued.
  
Does the Petitioner still qualify for a U visa even if the Petitioner entered the U.S. illegally?
 
Yes. The petitioner would have to apply for a special waiver. The final regulations have not yet been released that say what type of evidence is required to obtain this waiver but it is generally granted in the public interest.
 

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