Victims of qualifying crimes who actively cooperate with law enforcement and government officials in the investigation and prosecution of criminal activity may spend up to four years in the United States with a U visa. After three years of continuous presence in the United States, a U visa-holder may apply for an adjustment of status to become a lawful permanent resident. If the petition is successful, the individual will be issued a green card.
Applications for an adjustment from U nonimmigrant status to lawful permanent residency are filed with the USCIS Vermont Service Center. The processing time for a green card can vary significantly from case to case, though it generally takes 1 – 2 years. For a more accurate estimate of the current processing time, you can check case processing times on the USCIS website.
Green Card Eligibility
The primary purpose of a U visa is to incentivize victims of qualifying crimes to serve as witnesses and informants, and to bring these victims and their families to a safer living environment in the United States as they actively work with law enforcement and government officials in the pursuit of justice. There are some cases where the victim must eventually return to their country at the conclusion of their case, but in many cases the circumstances warrant an adjustment of status to allow the victim and their family to remain in the United States as lawful permanent residents.
In order to qualify for an adjustment of status from a U visa to lawful permanent resident, a U visa-holder must meet the following requirements:
- The applicant was lawfully admitted into the United States under U nonimmigrant status
- The applicant is currently in the United States with valid U nonimmigrant status
- The applicant has maintained a continuous physical presence in the United States for a at least three years since admission into the country as a U nonimmigrant
- The applicant has not unreasonably refused to assist law enforcement and government officials in the investigation or prosecution of their case
- The applicant is not considered inadmissible to the United States under INA § 212(a)(3)(E)
- The applicant’s continued residence in the United States is justifiable (e.g. to preserve family unity, on humanitarian grounds, or to serve the public’s best interest)
- The applicant merits a favorable exercise of discretion
Note that the applicant must continue to maintain their physical presence in the US through the date that USCIS issues a decision. If the applicant leaves the country after filing for a green card, the application may be rejected. Also, the applicant must continue to actively assist law enforcement and government officials in their case until USCIS issues a decision. The sponsoring law enforcement officer or government official’s authorization is a key component to a U nonimmigrant’s application, and any negative feedback from these figures can quickly derail an otherwise spotless application.
How to Apply for a Green Card
If you would like to become a lawful permanent resident and are eligible to apply for a green card, the first step is to meet with an immigration attorney. You can certainly apply for a green card on your own without counsel, but it’s not recommended. Even the smallest mistake can derail an otherwise perfect application, and an experienced immigration attorney can ensure that your application has everything it needs to pass with USCIS. In some cases, an attorney may be able to expedite the process for you.
After your initial consultation, your attorney will help you to complete the following steps:
- Complete Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status
- Obtain a copy of your Approval Notice (Form I-797) from your original Petition for U Nonimmigrant Status (Form I-918)
- Make copies of each page of your passport and relevant travel documents during your period under U nonimmigrant status (if you don’t have these materials, you’ll need to present a valid excuse)
- Draft an affidavit that attests to your continuous physical presence in the United States for at least three years, and attach evidence to prove your continuous physical presence
- If you left the country while under U nonimmigrant status, you’ll need to gather evidence to prove your dates of departure and return, and a reason for your departure
- If you were absent from the country for a continuous period of 90 days or more, or if you have been absent for a total of 180 days or more, you’ll need to obtain a certificate from the law enforcement agency or government office that you’ve been working with to confirm that your absence was necessary to the investigation or prosecution of your case
- Gather evidence that you were lawfully admitted into the United States with a valid U visa, and that you continue to hold a valid U visa
- Gather evidence that you have actively cooperated with law enforcement and government officials in the investigation or prosecution of your case, and that you have complied with any reasonable requests for assistance
- Gather evidence that your case merits an adjustment of status on humanitarian grounds (e.g. asylum, Convention Against Torture), to preserve family unity (i.e. you have immediate family members in the US who are citizens or green card holders), or on the grounds of public interest (e.g. you are a valuable, contributing member of society with no criminal record)
- Obtain two photographs that meet US passport standards
- Obtain a copy of your government-issued ID with a photograph (driver’s license, state ID)
- Obtain a copy of your birth certificate
- Obtain a copy of your Form I-94, Arrival/Departure Record, US Customs and Border Protection admission, or parole stamped travel documents (if applicable)
- Complete a medical examination with an approved doctor and request that the healthcare provider sign and complete Form I-693, Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record
- If you have been charged, arrested, or convicted of a crime, you’ll need to obtain certified copies of the applicable police reports and court records
- Pay the filing fee ($750 – $1225) or apply for a fee waiver
- File your application and supporting documents with the USCIS Vermont Service Center
What to Do If Your Green Card is Set to Expire
Considering that it takes three years of residency to qualify for a green card and the average processing time for a green card application takes 1 – 2 years, there’s a high likelihood that your U visa will lapse before your application is approved. While a lapsed visa is no trivial matter, in this case you have nothing to worry about. As long as USCIS receives your application before your U visa expires, the visa will automatically be extended to provide ample time for processing your petition.
Call our Immigration team at (480) 626-2388 to discuss your case today.
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