The U visa (sometimes referred to as U nonimmigrant status or U nonimmigrant visa) was created in October 2000 as a provision of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act. It is a special type of nonimmigrant visa specifically for victims of qualifying crimes who have suffered physical or mental abuse, and who actively work with law enforcement officials in the investigation or prosecution of criminal activity.
The US grants up to 10,000 U visas each year, along with U2, U3, and U4 visas for immediate family members of U visa-holders. The primary goal of the U visa program is to incentivize victims to cooperate with law enforcement and government officials while providing necessary protection for victims and their families. The U visa offers a path towards legal permanent residency in the United States, as the visa-holder can apply for a green card once they are in the US. That said, even those who decide not to apply for a green card can stay in the country for up to four years with their U visa.
Who is Eligible for a U Visa?
There are six criteria that apply to individuals seeking a U visa. In order to be considered eligible for the program, an applicant must meet the following requirements:
- The applicant is a victim of a qualifying crime (see the full list below)
- The applicant has suffered serious mental or physical abuse as a result of the crime
- The applicant has valuable information about the crime in question
- Regarding the criminal investigation or prosecution, the applicant has already been helpful, is currently helpful, or is deemed likely to be helpful by a certificate issued by a law enforcement officer, prosecutor, or judge
- The crime in question took place in the United States, or violated US laws while outside the United States
- The applicant is deemed admissible to the United States
Note that when the victim is younger than 16 or cannot provide information due to a disability, the victim’s parent, guardian, or “next friend” may possess the information and assist law enforcement on the victim’s behalf. In such cases, the victim and his or her parent, guardian, or next friend would both be eligible for a U-visa.
Victims of qualifying crimes that are considered inadmissible to the United States—perhaps due to a prior removal order or travel ban—may apply for a waiver of inadmissibility. In this case, the victim would need to submit Form I-192, Application for Advance Permission to Enter as a Nonimmigrant. Once this application is accepted and approved, the victim could move forward with their U visa application.
What Crimes Qualify for a U Non-immigrant Visa?
Under the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act, there are 28 crimes that specifically qualify for U visa status. These crimes include the following:
- Abusive sexual contact
- Domestic violence
- False imprisonment
- Female genital mutilation
- Felonious assault
- Fraud in foreign labor contracting
- Involuntary servitude
- Obstruction of justice
- Sexual assault
- Sexual exploitation
- Slave trade
- Witness tampering
- Unlawful criminal restraint
In addition to actual crimes that have already taken place, these rules also include any attempt, conspiracy, or solicitation to commit these crimes. Furthermore, any criminal activity where the elements of the crime are substantially similar to these 28 qualifying crimes may be considered eligible for U visa status.
How to Apply for a U Visa
Foreign nationals and citizens who are already in the United States can apply for U nonimmigrant status in six simple steps:
- Complete Form I-918, Petition for U Nonimmigrant Status
- Complete Form I-918 Supplement B, U Nonimmigrant Status Certification, signed by an authorized law enforcement agent or government official to attest that you have been helpful, are currently being helpful, or are likely to be helpful in their case
- If you are considered inadmissible, you’ll need to request a waiver of admissibility with Form I-192, Application for Advance Permission to Enter as Nonimmigrant
- Draft a personal statement with a description of the criminal activity that qualifies you for U nonimmigrant status
- Gather and attach evidence to prove and strengthen your case for U nonimmigrant status
- Submit all documents to the USCIS Vermont Service Center
At this point, the process will take a turn depending on whether or not the applicant is already in the United States. If the applicant is already in the country, any further actions will take place in the US. If the applicant is outside the United States, the Vermont Service Center will forward the approved petition to the nearest US Embassy or Consulate. From there, the applicant would need to complete an interview with a consular officer at the US Embassy or Consulate, and complete fingerprinting and other biometrics requirements on site after the interview.
Note that there is no filing fee required with Form I-918 or Supplement B. However, if you need to request a waiver of inadmissibility, Form I-192 carries a $930 filing fee. That said, you may request a fee waiver by submitting Form I-912.
Derivative U Visas
Depending on the circumstances, a victim who qualifies for U nonimmigrant status may be permitted to bring their immediate family members with them to the United States. The applicant would need to file Form I-918 Supplement A, Petition for Qualifying Family Member of U-1 Recipient. Principal applicants who are under 21 can petition on behalf of their spouse, children, parents, and unmarried siblings. Principal applicants who are 21 and older can only petition on behalf of their spouse and children.
Once the USCIS approves the principal applicant’s petition, the agency will evaluate family members included in Supplement A. Upon approval, the USCIS will award the following derivative visas:
- U2 – for the victim’s spouse
- U3 – for the victim’s children
- U4 – for the victim’s parents
- U5 – for the victim’s unmarried siblings
Apply for a Green Card
Individuals who have lived in the United States for at least three years are eligible to apply for lawful permanent residency. For U visa-holders, there are two primary qualifications:
- The applicant has been physically present in the United States for a continuous period of at least three years with valid U nonimmigrant status
- The applicant has not unreasonably refused to provide assistance to law enforcement since receiving their U visa