The U Visa is a special visa for victims of crimes. This visa is an opportunity to qualify for a green card, particularly for people who may be otherwise inadmissible to the U.S. for reasons such as illegal entry. This article goes over the process for getting a U Visa, visa benefits, and the current processing time.
Before we get into the details, I’ll give you an example of one of my clients who I advised to pursue a U Visa even though she was married to a US citizen.
My client was planning to file for Lawful Permanent Residency in the U.S. through her U.S. citizen spouse. As we began discussing her case, I discovered that she had multiple grounds of inadmissibility that made her ineligible for Lawful Permanent Residency status. Mainly, she had left the United States after having accumulated more than one year of unlawful presence in the U.S., and then she re-entered the U.S. illegally a few weeks later. In simple terms, all of these actions triggered the “permanent bar,” meaning she must wait 10 years outside before she can even apply for a waiver for unlawful presence. Had she immigrated through her husband she would have been denied for this reason and likely placed in removal proceedings following the denial.
I began to ask her questions to see if she would qualify for a process that would avoid this situation. I learned that she was the victim of domestic violence in a previous relationship and that she had pressed charges against her abuser. This qualified her for the U Visa. This way, we could apply to waive the 10 year/permanent bar. Through this process, she could eventually obtain Lawful Permanent Resident status without having to wait 10 years outside to apply for a waiver.
U Visa Benefits
There are three amazing benefits of the U Visa.
1. The U Visa Gets You a Green Card
First and most important, the U Visa is a path to permanent residence. Unlike other immigration statuses like Temporary Protected Status (TPS), it’s not something you have to renew eternally. The U Visa ultimately leads to a green card and even U.S. citizenship.
2. Help Your Family Immigrate
Second, with the U Visa you can help your family immigrate. If you have children, a spouse, parents or siblings that you want to sponsor for immigration, the U Visa gives you a path to do so. When you apply for your U Visa, you can include these relatives on your application. They can receive U visa derivative status and all the same benefits as the principal applicant. The ages of the relatives and your relationship to them will determine whether or not they are eligible. It’s a good idea to consult with an attorney if you are considering this option.
3. Waiver for Grounds of Inadmissibility
Third, the U Visa waives many of the grounds of inadmissibility that other immigrant visas do not. If you entered the U.S. without inspection (illegally) multiple times or have a final order of removal (deportation) against you, you may still be able to apply for a waiver that allows you to obtain a U Visa.
U Visa Process
Let's talk about some of the requirements for a U-visa and the process for getting one. In order to qualify for a U Visa, you need to be a victim of a qualifying crime and you need to have cooperated with law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of the criminal activity. Here’s a breakdown of those requirements.
U Visa Qualifying Crimes
U.S. immigration law specifically designates 28 crimes that qualify for a U Visa: abduction, abusive sexual contact, blackmail, domestic violence, extortion, false imprisonment, female genital mutilation, felonious assault, fraud in foreign labor contracting, hostage-taking, 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, and other related crimes.
In order to qualify for a U visa, you need to have been a victim of one of the above crimes.
Second, you need a certificate signed by a law enforcement official that proves you cooperated with law enforcement to the best of your abilities. The certificate can be from any designated law enforcement agency including police, a prosecutor, or a judge. In cases of child abuse, my clients have gotten certificates from the Department of Child and Family Services. It’s a good idea to talk to an immigration attorney about the best agency from who to request a certificate. Remember that the police aren't the only ones who can submit it, especially if the crime occured in a state where the police are not obligated to give responses.
Cooperation with Law Enforcement
You will also need to prove that you cooperated with law enforcement. Many applicants get confused about this requirement so I will provide a couple examples.
In some cases of domestic violence the victim will return to her abuser and then drop the charges. Because the charges were eventually dropped, this does not qualify as cooperation and you would not be able to apply for a U visa or obtain the police certificate that way.
Another question many applicants have is if they are victims of unsolved crimes. For example, if you were robbed or assaulted and the police never found the assailant. You need to be able to prove that you reported the crime and did everything you asked to do to help solve the crime. The key is that you shared your contact information with the police and were willing and able to cooperate at all times, even if the police never sought assistance.
Proof of Physical, Emotional or Psychological Damage
To apply for the U Visa, you are required to show how you suffered physical, emotional or psychological damage as a result of the crime. This will come in the format of a declaration that you sign. It also can be proven with evidence of pictures or a medical report, letters from witnesses who saw the crime occur, or letters from a therapist or counselor. This kind of evidence demonstrates the hardship suffered. In your declaration, you should also include how your suffering will get worse if you are not permitted to stay in the United States.
U Visa Processing Time
The U Visa processing time is long, but there are benefits along the way.
If you were to file a U-visa application with today with today's date, in a couple of weeks you'll likely get your appointment to take your fingerprints and then you may not hear from immigration for several years. As of October 2018, immigration is only reviewing cases from October 2014. That means it's taking almost four years just to review a case.
While your case is under review, you don’t qualify for any benefits. But, the moment a decision is made on your case, the moment that it’s approved, you qualify for a work authorization. At this point, you may have to wait about one more year for your actual visa to be issued, but you can apply for a work permit and you will receive a Social Security number in the meantime.
It’s extremely important to know that you cannot file for residency any later than the fourth year. Once you get your U-visa, be sure to mark the three year anniversary on your calendar and remember to apply for a green card through adjustment of status at that moment. If you don’t, you will lose your ability to become a resident and you likely will not be able to get a U-visa again.
How To Check Your Processing Time for the U Visa
Many clients ask when they will get their visa. It typically takes several years for a U Visa case to be processed. However, the amount of time is dynamic and can change depending on a few factors including the USCIS backlog. Here’s how to check the current processing time for your case. This approximation is updated monthly by the USCIS so it’s important to stay on top of it.