When Congress passed “The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act” in 2000, the government established a non-immigrant visa known as a “U-visa.” These visas were established for the purpose of strengthening law enforcement’s ability to detect, investigate, and prosecute serious crimes, such as domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking; Encouraging victims to report crimes committed against them and participate in the investigation and prosecution of those crimes, even if victims lack lawful immigration status; and offering protections to victims of qualifying crimes in keeping with the humanitarian interests of the United States. In this blog, I will explain how a person can qualify for a U-Visa, and the process by which they can obtain it. A person can be eligible for a visa if they qualify in these four areas:

1. The candidate has been a victim of a qualifying criminal act and has suffered physical or mental abuse from the incident. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service lists a multitude of offenses that qualify a crime victim for a U-Visa. The full list can be found here.

2. The candidate has information about the criminal activity and is capable of assisting law enforcement in the investigation of the crime. If the candidate is under the age of 16 or suffers from a disability that prevents them from sharing the information, then it can be provided by a parent, guardian or acquaintance.

3. The crime occurred in the United States or violated American laws. Cooperating with the appropriate authorities is an important qualification for the U-Visa process, because a law enforcement official must sign a certification in support of the candidate’s petition.

4. The candidate is eligible to be admitted to the United States. Even if U-Visa candidates are eligible for deportation, they can apply for a waiver that forgives past violations of immigration or criminal law.

For those who believe that they are eligible for the U-Visa, there is a multi-step process entailed in order to file the petition. There is also an avenue by which those eligible for a U-Visa can petition for family members to gain the same status; however, that step of the process can only begin once the original candidate has had his or her U-Visa application approved. Qualifying applicants must complete these five steps in order to build a successful application.

1. File a Form I-918 “Petition for U Nonimmigrant Status” An electronic copy of this form can be found here.

2. File Supplement B of Form I-918 This form must be co-signed by a law enforcement official in order to ratify with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service that the candidate has indeed been the victim of the crime and to ratify that he or she is assisting in the investigation.

3. File a Form I-192 “Application for Advance Permission to Enter as Nonimmigrant” and apply for a waiver if there are admissibility issues This form allows candidates who have been convicted of violating American immigration or criminal laws to be granted a waiver for their previous actions. Typically, offenses are weighted against the victimization of the candidate and the level of assistance they have provided to law enforcement.

4. Submit a personal statement detailing the crime committed against you as well as evidence to establish the candidate’s qualifications

Since there is no court hearing or interview in regards to the U-Visa application, this section is the best opportunity to explain the incident and why it qualifies the candidate for this program. This statement should seek to certify that the candidate suffered from their victimization and cooperated willingly with law enforcement. For those with past immigration or criminal violations, use this statement to explain why the candidate deserves forgiveness for those past actions.

5. Pending USCIS approval, a U-Visa candidate can file Form I-918, Supplement A “Petition for Qualifying Family Member of a U-1 Recipient”

Candidates must have their original U-Visa application approved before they can apply for qualifying family members to join them. For candidates under 21 years old, they can petition for their spouse, children, parents and unmarried siblings under the age of 18 to receive visas. For candidates 21 years and older, they can petition on behalf of only their spouse and children.

One of the major hindrances to the U-Visa is the quota placed on U-Visas by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. While an infinite amount of visa applications can be approved, the government only awards 10,000 principal U-Visas annually. Therefore, applicants are forced to wait years until their approved application is confirmed with a U-Visa.

The qualifications listed and the step-by-step process is only a cursory description of the full visa process. The Immigrant Legal Resource Center has put together a more thorough guide of the U-Visa process that answers many of the questions frequently asked by visa candidates. However, there is no literature that can substitute for the advice of an experienced lawyer, especially in the ever-changing world of immigration. Call Castel & Hall, L.L.P. at 617-716-6464 to receive an informed consultation from an experienced immigration lawyer.