How Immigrant Crime Victims Can Obtain a "U" Visa

“U” visas allow immigrants who are victims of domestic violence or sex crimes to live and work in the United States for up to four years or more. And after three years of living in the U.S. a U visa holder and his/her immediate family members may apply for green cards.

There is no fee to apply for a U visa. But to qualify the victim must:

  1. Prove that he or she suffered “substantial physical or mental abuse” as a result of the crime, and
  2. Cooperate with U.S. law enforcement to investigate and prosecute the offense(s).[1]

To help you better understand U visas, our Los Angeles, California immigration lawyers discuss the following, below:

woman cowering against wall as man making fist stands over her
"U" visas allow some Immigrants who are crime victims to live and work in the U.S.

1. Who is eligible for a “U” visa?

To be eligible for a U visa, an immigrant must:

  • Be the victim of a qualifying crime of domestic or sexual violence (as set forth below);
  • Have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of the crime(s) (as discussed below);
  • Have information about the criminal activity and be, have been, or be likely to be helpful to law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of the crime; and
  • Be admissible to the United States or obtain a waiver of inadmissibility.

Victims who are disabled or under 16 years of age do not need to provide information about the crime personally. The information can be provided by a parent, guardian, or someone willing to act on the victim's behalf (a so-called “next friend.”)

2. What is a “qualifying” crime?

To create U visa eligibility, the qualifying crime must have been a violation of U.S. law or taken place in the U.S. The offenses that give rise to eligibility for a U visa are:

  • Abduction
  • Abusive sexual contact
  • Blackmail / extortion
  • Domestic violence
  • False imprisonment
  • Female genital mutilation
  • Felony 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,
  • Crimes with similar elements to any of the foregoing, and/or
  • Attempt, conspiracy, or solicitation to commit any such crimes.

*In cases in which the victim dies as a result of murder or manslaughter, family members of the victim may be able to obtain derivative U visas.

3. How do I apply for a U visa?

To apply for a U visa, an alien must:

U.S. embassy seal
  • Complete and submit a Form I-918, Petition for U Nonimmigrant Status along with evidence of eligibility; 
  • Provide a personal statement describing the criminal activity of which he or she was a victim; and
  • Have an authorized official of the certifying law enforcement agency sign a Form I-918, Supplement B, U Nonimmigrant Status Certification. This form confirms that the immigrant was or is currently being helpful, or will likely be helpful in the future, in the investigation or prosecution of the crime.

If the immigrant is outside the United States, he or she will also need to undergo consular processing – including an interview with a consular officer at the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

4. How do I prove “substantial physical or mental abuse”?

Physical or mental abuse is defined as:

  • Injury or harm to the victim's physical person, or 
  • Harm to, or impairment of, the emotional or psychological soundness of the victim.[2]

No single factor is dispositive of the issue. Whether abuse is substantial is based on a combination of factors, including but not limited to:

  • The nature of the injury inflicted or suffered; 
  • The severity of the perpetrator's conduct;
  • The severity of the harm suffered;
  • The duration of the infliction of the harm; and 
  • The extent to which there is permanent or serious harm to the appearance, health, or physical or mental soundness of the victim, including aggravation of pre-existing conditions. 

Harm can be based on a single act, or a series of acts that taken together add up to substantial physical or mental abuse, even where no single act alone rises to that level.

5. What if I have a criminal record or am inadmissible to the United States?

Some aliens may be inadmissible to the United States – for instance because of a conviction for an aggravated felony or other "inadmissible" crime.

Inadmissibility is not necessarily a bar to obtaining a U visa.

However, in addition to the U visa petition, an alien who is inadmissible to the United States must also request a waiver of inadmissibility by filing a Form I-192, Application for Advance Permission to Enter as Nonimmigrant.

For more information, you may wish to read the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's U and T Visa Law Enforcement Resource Guide.

6. How long does a U visa last?

A U visa is normally valid for four years. But the time period can be extended:

  • Based on a request from law enforcement,
  • Based on exceptional circumstances,
  • If an extension is needed due to delays in consular processing, or
  • If an application for adjustment to lawful permanent resident status (“green card”) has been filed and is pending.

7. Can my family members get derivative immigration status?

Once a petition for a “U” visa has been approved, the following family members become eligible for their own derivative U visa:

  • If the principal petitioner (the crime victim) is 21 years of age or older, the victim's spouse and children; or
  • If the principal petitioner (the crime victim) is under 21 years old, the victim's spouse, children, parents and unmarried siblings under age 18.

8. Is there a cap on the number of U visas granted each year?

The U.S. government grants a maximum of 10,000 U visas each year. (But there is no cap on the number of derivative U visas that may be granted to spouses and other eligible family members of crime victims.)

Once the cap has been reached the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will create a waiting list for eligible petitioners who are awaiting a final decision. While on the waiting list, petitioners will be granted deferred action or parole. This means they cannot be deported and will be eligible to apply for work authorization.

Once additional visas become available, immigrants on the waiting list will receive their visas in the order in which their petition was received. Petitioners on the waiting list do not have to take any additional steps to request the U visa. USCIS will notify the petitioner once their petition has been approved.

9. Can I work legally in the United States on a U visa?

Approved U visa petitioners will be automatically issued a work authorization. Petitioners do not need to file an application for employment authorization.

Family members deriving their immigration status through a U visa petitioner must file a Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization in order to work legally in the U.S.

They can also apply for a work authorization based on deferred action if their family member is on the U visa wait list.

pen lying on paper that says "Green Card Application"
U visa holders can obtain a green card after 3 years

10. When can I apply for a green card?

U visa recipients are eligible to apply for a green card (adjustment of status to permanent residence) if they meet the following requirements:

  1. They have been physically present in the United States for a continuous period of at least three years while in U nonimmigrant status, and
  2. They have not unreasonably refused to provide assistance to law enforcement since receiving their U visa.

Family members must meet their own eligibility requirements and apply for their own green card.

If an eligible family member is outside the United States, he or she must first visit a U.S. embassy or consulate to obtain an immigrant visa.

11. How much does it cost to obtain a U visa?

There is no fee to apply for a U visa.

There is a filing fee of $230 in order to apply for a derivative visa for a family member (Form I-929)

A family member who is unable to pay the fee may request a fee waiver by also filing a Form I-912 fee waiver request or by submitting a separate written request for a fee waiver.

If you hire a lawyer to help you with a visa application or to help you appeal a denial of a visa, there will usually be a separate fee for your lawyer.

Need help with a U visa petition or appeal? Call us…

female receptionist

If you or a family member is an immigrant who was a victim of a crime or domestic abuse, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation.

You may be entitled to a U visa, relief under the Violence Against Women Act ("VAWA") or other relief that will allow you to live and work in the U.S. on your own.

Call us today at (855) 396-0370 to speak to a caring and experienced California immigration lawyer. Or complete the form on this page and a lawyer will call you at a convenient time.

We can also help you if you need an immigration lawyer in Nevada.

Legal references:

  1. Immigration and Nationality Act ("INA") § 101(a)(15)(U)(i)(I), codified at 8 USC § 1101(a)(15)(U)(i)(I).
  2. 8 CFR § 214.14(a)(8).

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