A U-Visa is a United States non-immigrant visa that is available for victims of certain crimes, as well as their family members. If the individual qualifies for the U-Visa, it can be a way for that person to obtain legal permanent residency status, otherwise known as a green card, and eventually U.S. citizenship.
However, it is important to understand what the qualifications are for a U-Visa and what certain issues may present themselves along the way.
What Are the Qualifications to Receive a U-Visa?
To qualify for a U-Visa, the following requirements must be met:
- The individual must have been a victim of a crime that falls within one of the designated crimes under the U-Visa program;
- The individual must have suffered “substantial physical or mental harm” as a direct result of the crime;
- The victim has information about the crime committed;
- The individual was helpful and assisted in the investigation of the crime;
- The crime occurred in the United States or violated U.S. laws.
What Are the Qualifying Crimes?
To obtain a U-Visa, the applicant must have been the victim of a crime that falls under the list of designated crimes under the law. Not all crimes are applicable, and the person must have been the victim of one of the following listed crimes to be considered for a U-Visa:
- Kidnapping, abduction or trafficking;
- Domestic Violence;
- Abusive sexual contact, sexual assault, rape, incest or sexual exploitation;
- Slave trade or involuntary servitude;
- Female genital mutilation;
- False imprisonment or unlawful criminal restraint;
- Fraud in a foreign labor contracting issue;
- Hostage situation;
- Felonious assault;
- Manslaughter or murder;
- Perjury or obstruction of justice;
- Witness tampering;
- Other related crimes not listed.
While this list of crimes covered is fairly extensive, not all criminal offenses are included and thus do not qualify for a U-Visa.
If any questions exist as to whether a certain crime applies, contact an attorney experienced in immigration law, specifically with respect to U-Visas to get an opinion.
How Does the Application Process Work?
If an individual qualifies to seek a U-Visa, the first step is to seek a Law Enforcement Certification. This step coincides with the requirement that the victim of the crime must have been helpful to the law enforcement during their investigation of the crime.
The actual law enforcement agency will need to issue an official certificate showing that the victim did, in fact, cooperate with the investigation. The applicant can seek this himself or herself, or the attorney can help and get this for the victim.
Once the certification has been received, the applicant will then need to prepare a Form I-918 Petition for U-Nonimmigrant Status. In this application, the crime must be described, person must describe the harm caused by the crime and must submit any medical records that can help prove this harm.
If there was any psychological harm caused, a psychological evaluation will need to also be included.
The U-Visa applicant may also require a waiver from time to time. If the applicant came into the country illegally, this waiver may be needed for him or her to stay and avoid deportation. An attorney can assist in applying for this important piece of paperwork required.
How Long Does the Process Take?
How long the application process takes can vary greatly. On average, the government takes six to nine months to approve or deny the application. However, this depends on how many applications are received. Currently, there is a long waiting list for U-Visas, and the length of time to process an application can be up to five years.
The process can be even longer if the government requests additional information along the way. If the applicant is in the middle of an immigration cases, he or she can ask for the matter to be postponed or put on hold until the application is processed.
Once granted, the U-Visa can allow the individual to stay in the United States for a period of four years, to work and to even have family members stay through the U-Visa program. After the applicant has lived in the U.S. legally for three years, he or she can apply for a green card to stay permanently. Eventually, after getting the green card, the applicant can apply for citizenship.
Contact Orbit Law Today!
We are happy to schedule a consultation or conference call to discuss your immigration needs. Please call our office at 206.623.3352 to schedule your consultation today.