Mario Ramos, K-1 visa immigration lawyer


U Visa

Immigration blog

"Undocumented immigrants are unbelievably vulnerable to abuse, exploitation, and victimization, because their fear of detection keeps them from reporting that victimization." -Susan Bowyer, Managing lawyer for the Oakland office of the International Institute of the Bay area, as quoted in the New York Times1.

In an attempt to encourage victims to come forward, in October 2000, Congress passed the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act. The U Visa is a product of this act. This visa applies to immigrants who are the victims or witnesses of certain crimes and who have cooperated with authorities in the prosecution of the perpetrator.

What is a U Visa?

It is a visa created to help immigrants who are victims of crimes in the United States.

What is the purpose of the U Visa?

The purpose is to give legal protection to victims or witnesses of crimes.

Are you an undocumented immigrant who has been the victim of a crime?

Do not be afraid to report the crime and to assist the police, or other authorities, with their investigation. As the victim of a crime you may be eligible to apply for a U Visa.

What are the most important benefits?

  • To have U Visa nonimmigrant legal status for 4 years.
  • The opportunity to seek permanent residency ("green card") after 3 years in U Visa status.
  • Automatic employment authorization for the principal applicant.
  • Family members may also be included on the petition to apply for an employment permit, U visa, and permanent residency.

Who is a U Visa candidate?

    A person qualifies for a U Visa if:
  1. He or she is a non-citizen and was a victim,
  2. Of qualifying criminal activity,
  3. has suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of being a victim of the criminal activity,
  4. Possesses information concerning the criminal activity,
  5. Has been helpful or is likely to be helpful to a federal, state, or local law enforcement and authorities investigating or prosecuting the criminal activity, and
  6. The crime committed violated the laws of the United States or occurred in the United States.

How can family members be included in my petition for a U Visa? What family members qualify?

A U visa applicant can file a petition on behalf of a family member. The applicant must file Form I-918, Supplement A, for their qualifying family members. If the U visa applicant is less than 21 years of age, the applicant can file for his or her spouse, children, unmarried siblings under 18 years of age, and parents. If the U visa applicant is 21 or older the applicant can file for his or her spouse and children.

What is considered a "qualifying criminal activity?"

  1. Abusive sexual contact
  2. Sexual exploitation
  3. Female genital mutilation
  4. Being held hostage
  5. Peonage
  6. Involuntary Servitude
  7. Kidnapping
  8. Unlawful Criminal Restraint
  9. False Imprisonment
  10. Manslaughter
  11. Sexual Assault
  12. Felonious Assault
  13. Witness tampering
  14. Rape
  15. Torture
  16. Trafficking
  17. Incest
  18. Domestic Violence
  19. Murder
  20. Blackmail
  21. Extortion
  22. Perjury
  23. Slave Trade
  24. Prostitution
  25. Abduction
  26. Attempt, conspiracy, or solicitation to commit any of the above,
  27. ..or substantially similar criminal activity.

What constitutes "substantial physical or mental abuse?"

In determining whether criminal activity results in substantial physical or mental abuse to a victim, many circumstances are taken into consideration. These include the nature of the injury suffered, the duration of the infliction of the harm, the permanence of the harm or injury, and the physical and mental soundness of the victim.

How do I apply for a U Visa?

The first step to applying for the U Visa is obtaining certification (Form I-918, Supplement B). This form must be completed and signed by a federal, state or local level authority. It can also be granted by a judge, prosecutor, or other authority which is responsible for crime investigation. Once certification has been obtained, the applicant may file a Petition for U Nonimmigrant Status (Form I-918).

Can a victim who has a deportation order issued by Immigration still apply for a U-Visa?

Yes. Victims are still eligible to apply for a U-Visa even if they have a deportation order. Once the U visa is approved, they will need to file a motion to reopen the deportation order with the Immigration Court. If the individual is about to be ordered deported, he must file a Stay to the deportation.

Can an immigrant who is now outside the United States apply for a U visa?

Yes. A victims of a qualifying crime, and his or her family members, can apply for a U visa from outside the United States, if the crime was committed while the immigrant was in the United States. The immigrant and family members will file for the U visa with the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the country they are in.

If I have a current temporary visa can I apply for a U Visa?

Yes, if you have a current temporary visa (non-immigrant) you can apply for a U Visa. If your U visa application is approved, you will have to cancel your current non-immigrant visa, and you will not be able to renew it.

How long can an immigrant have a U Visa?

U visa status cannot exceed four years. After three years an immigrant in U visa status can apply for adjustment of status (green card).

Can an immigrant granted U visa status apply for permanent resident status (green card)?

Yes! After being granted a U Visa, the immigrant must physically remain present in the U.S. for a continuous period of at least three years since the date of issuance of the U visa. Immigration will then determine whether the immigrant's continued presence in the United States should be granted.

Is there a limit on the number of U Visas Immigration can approve?

Only 10,000 U Visas may be every year. As a consequence, it is important to contact an immigration attorney as soon as possible if you wish to apply. This limit does not apply to spouses, children, parents, and unmarried siblings under 18 years of age who are accompanying or following to join the principal victim. Once the annual cap of 10,000 is reached, applicants for U status will be placed on a waitlist and will be issued deferred action. With deferred action the applicant will be eligible to apply for employment authorization and will be permitted to travel until their petitions can be judged.

1. Katherine Ellison, "A Special Visa Program Benefits Abused Illegal Immigrants," THE NEW YORK TIMES, January 8, 2010.

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