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Immigration Relief for Victims of Certain Crimes: U Nonimmigrant Visa

The U nonimmigrant visa was created by Congress in 2000 to provide immigration relief to foreign nationals without lawful immigration status who have been victims of certain qualifying crimes, have suffered physical or mental abuse, and have helped, are in the process of helping, or have the capacity to help law enforcement agencies investigate and prosecute the criminal activity in question. Once granted, U nonimmigrant status is valid for four years, but allows the recipient to apply for lawful permanent status (green card holder) after three years. Certain family members may also receive U nonimmigrant status as derivative beneficiaries.

You may qualify for a U visa if:

  • You are the victim of a qualifying crime that occurred in the U.S. or violated U.S. laws
  • As a result of the crime, you have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse
  • You possess information about the crime and have cooperated, are cooperating, or are likely to cooperate with law enforcement by providing such information

Want to learn more about the U nonimmigrant visa? Contact our Chicago attorneys at (312) 698-9066 for a consultation.

Qualifying Criminal Activity

The qualifying criminal activity is defined by section 101(a)(15)(U) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”).

The INA defines qualifying criminal activity as having been the victim of one or more of the following crimes:

  • Abduction
  • Abusive Sexual Contact
  • Blackmail
  • Domestic Violence
  • Extortion
  • False Imprisonment
  • Female Genital Mutilation
  • Felonious Assault
  • Fraud in Foreign Labor Contracting
  • Hostage
  • Incest
  • Involuntary Servitude
  • Kidnapping
  • Manslaughter
  • Murder
  • Obstruction of Justice
  • Peonage
  • Perjury
  • Prostitution
  • Rape
  • Sexual Assault
  • Sexual Exploitation
  • Slave Trade
  • Stalking
  • Torture
  • Trafficking
  • Witness Tampering
  • Unlawful Criminal Restraint

*Certain crimes may also be substantially similar to those listed. Qualifying crimes also include attempt, conspiracy, or solicitation to commit any of the above-mentioned crimes.

Physical or Mental Harm

To qualify for a U visa, you must have suffered physical or mental harm. This means that you have been harmed if you suffered an injury, had a preexisting condition that worsened due to the criminal activity, and/or suffered from anxiety, depression, or mental anguish due to the criminal activity.

Cooperation with Law Enforcement

Finally, in order to qualify for a U visa, you need to cooperate or have the capacity to cooperate with law enforcement regarding the crime committed against you.

Examples of being helpful to law enforcement include:

  • Calling the police
  • Informing the police about the criminal activity
  • Answering law enforcement questions regarding the crime
  • Testifying in court
  • Cooperating with prosecutors in the prosecution of the crime

Qualifying Relatives: Derivative Beneficiaries

If you qualify for a U nonimmigrant visa, your qualifying relative(s) may also apply for a U visa as derivative beneficiaries once your visa is approved. If you are under 21 years old, your spouse, children, parents, and unmarried siblings under age 18 may receive a U visa as derivative beneficiaries. If you are 21 years of age or older, only your spouse and children can obtain a U visa as derivative beneficiaries.

What Immigration Benefits Do You Receive with a U Visa?

If you qualify for a U visa, you will be granted U nonimmigrant status for four years. While you hold U nonimmigrant status, you will receive employment authorization and may be allowed to travel outside the U.S. In certain states, you might also be eligible to receive public benefits.

Becoming a Lawful Permanent Resident

Once you establish continuous presence in the U.S. for three years in U nonimmigrant visa status, you may apply for to become a lawful permanent resident and eventually become a U.S. citizen.

To apply for lawful permanent resident status, you must show that:

  • You have been physically present in the U.S. for a period of three continuous years* after receiving U visa status; and
  • You have not unreasonably refused to assist law enforcement regarding the crime committed against you since receiving your U visa.

*Continuous presence means you have not left the U.S. for periods longer than 180 consecutive days.

Note that applicants for a U visa must be admissible.Although all grounds of inadmissibility are waived for those whose applications are approved, INA §212(a)(3)(E) is not.

How Long Does the Process Take?

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services takes about six to nine months to process U nonimmigrant visa applications. However, the U visa is subject to a yearly cap of 10,000 visas per year. This means that USCIS can only issue 10,000 nonimmigrant visas per year. When there are more applications than visas available, USCIS will make a preliminary determination as to whether or not you qualify for U visa status. If USCIS determines that you do qualify, your application will be placed on a waiting list. While on the waiting list, you may apply for employment authorization based on deferred action.

If you have further questions about the U visa, call Borjas Law Group, LLC. at (312) 698-9066.

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