Are you an immigrant who would like to gain lawful status in the United States? Have you been the victim of domestic violence, rape, assault, abduction, or other crime that has caused you substantial physical or mental harm? Have you helped a police officer, prosecutor, or judge investigate the crime committed against you? If you answered yes to all three questions, you may be eligible for U Nonimmigrant Status (a U Visa).
What is a U Visa and what are the benefits of having one?
The U Visa allows certain immigrant victims of crime to live and work lawfully in the United States for four years. Immigrants who receive a U Visa can also apply for a green card after three years. Because the government can only issue 10,000 U Visas each year and the annual number of applications has been much higher than that, there is a waitlist of several years for people who file meritorious U Visa applications. At this time, there is also an approximately 4 year wait just to have your application reviewed by an officer to determine whether or not you should be placed on the waitlist.
Am I eligible for a U Visa?
There are several requirements you must meet in order to be eligible to apply for a U Visa. First, you must be the victim of a qualifying crime, such as domestic violence, sexual abuse, aggravated assault, abduction, false imprisonment, blackmail, rape, torture, or incest. To find out whether a particular crime is covered by the U Visa, you may call Legal Services of New Jersey’s statewide legal hotline, LSNJLAWSM, at the number provided at the end of this article.
You also must be the direct victim of the crime—that is, you must personally have suffered physical or mental harm as a result of the crime. In some cases, though, certain relatives of a victim who is murdered, disabled, or very young may also be eligible to apply for U Visas as “indirect” victims.
Another requirement for the U Visa is that you must have helped, or be willing to help, law enforcement authorities investigate or prosecute the crime committed against you. For example, this could be by giving a statement to the police, answering questions by law enforcement officials, making a suspect identification, testifying in court, or submitting a complaint. You must continue to cooperate with the investigation or prosecution of the crime at all times.
What about my family members?
If you are eligible for a U Visa, you can apply for your spouse and children. If you are under 21, you can also apply for your parent(s) and any unmarried brothers and sisters under 18. If your application is approved, your family members will receive the same benefits as you. Note: you cannot apply for any family members who were involved in committing the crime against you.
What must my application include?
Along with the U Visa application form, you will need to submit proof of the harm you suffered as a crime victim, and proof of your help in investigating the crime. This proof can include photos, statements from witnesses, police reports, court documents, restraining orders, medical records, and other such evidence. Also, an official from a law enforcement agency, police department, court, or prosecutor’s office needs to sign a special immigration form stating that you have been helpful in investigating the crime committed against you. Finally, you must submit a written statement describing the crime, how you were harmed, and how you helped in the investigation or prosecution of the crime.
If you are applying for any family members, you will need to include proof of the relationship (for example, marriage certificate, birth certificate, or photos), along with a work permit application for each family member.
An immigration attorney at LSNJ may be able to assist you with collecting and assembling these documents for your application.
What if I violated any immigration or criminal laws?
If you violated certain immigration laws, such as entering the U.S. without inspection, you will have to file an “inadmissibility waiver” form with your U Visa application. You may also have to file this form if you have any criminal convictions. The government will then decide whether to excuse your criminal conviction or immigration violation. The government will excuse convictions for violent or dangerous crimes only in extraordinary circumstances.
Are there any fees involved?
There is no application fee required with a U Visa application. However, if you need to file the “inadmissibility waiver” form described above, you will have to pay an additional fee. You may be eligible to apply for waivers of all fees depending on your financial situation.
What if I am currently in a case before the Immigration Court? What if I was already ordered deported by an Immigration Judge?
If you are currently in removal proceedings before the Immigration Court, or if you were ordered removed by an Immigration Judge, you may still be eligible to apply for a U Visa. You should contact an LSNJ immigration attorney at the number below to get more information.
Special note to immigrant survivors of domestic violence
If you have suffered from domestic violence, but cannot file a “VAWA self-petition” because you were never married to the person who abused you, or because the abuser is not a green card holder or citizen, the U Visa may be a good alternative for you.
Get more information
As with any application you file with the immigration authorities, there is a risk that they may deny your application and attempt to have you removed (deported) from the United States. That is why it is important for you to talk to an immigration attorney or experienced advocate before applying for a U Visa. To talk to an immigration lawyer at LSNJ, please call LSNJLAWSM, our statewide, toll-free legal hotline, at 1-888-LSNJ-LAW (1-888-576-5529).
This information last reviewed: Aug 1, 2018