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Understanding The United States’ U-Visas

People living in the United States as residents are not the only target of criminals. Many who are in the US as tourists, visitors, or even illegal immigrants are major targets of criminals. Victims of crime are often excellent witnesses and can provide important evidence that could lead to convictions.

Unfortunately, many victims are afraid to tell their story for fear of being deported. The US Congress has recognized this fear as one of the biggest barriers to catching many criminals. In 2000, the Congress passed two important laws. One of these laws created two new visas, the T and U visas. These were created in response to increasing public safety concerns.

The idea was that foreign victims of crime in the United States should be allowed to stay to provide law enforcement officers with information useful in capturing and prosecuting criminals. If your U visa application is approved, you will have legal permanent residence in the United States for up to four years.

This period may be extended in exceptional circumstances. After three years, you may be able to apply for a green card. However, you can’t get a U visa by claiming to be a victim of a felony. A qualified government agency must issue you with a certificate that you will be helpful.

They must also provide evidence that they suffered “mental or physical abuse” by the perpetrator in the United States. If you are inadmissible to the United States because of past immigration violations or other reasons, you will need to ask for a waiver of those grounds. Knowing relevant information about U visas will simplify the process.

This is why we have prepared this post to provide you with essential information about U visas in the US.

Overview of U visas

A U visa is a visa issued by the United States government. It is intended to assist individuals who have suffered physical or psychological abuse and who are willing to assist law enforcement or the government of the United States in prosecuting criminal offenses. Congress created the U visa in October of 2000.

The U visa was created to assist victims of sexual crimes, including human trafficking, sexual assault, physical abuse, and other types of violence. People who have suffered these types of crimes often do not feel safe coming forward to the authorities.

They fear being deported or detained, and many of these people are undocumented immigrants who do not have any legal immigrant status. The fear of being apprehended or deported from the United States makes it seem impossible to come forward. This makes it easier for criminals to prey on these undocumented immigrants.

This, in turn, leads to crime in immigrant communities. The U visa hopes to increase the number of victims who feel safe enough to come forward to law enforcement so that justice can be served.

As more survivors come forward to share the stories of the crime they were victims of, there is a greater chance that law enforcement will be better equipped to investigate and build a case against criminals.

In summary, the U visa is a type of non-immigrant visa issued by the US government to victims of criminal offenses who have suffered psychological and/or physical abuse. The purpose of a U visa is to Protect victims of non-citizens who have been victims of crimes and gain information regarding crimes.

It also provides legal status for victims in the US, where US law enforcement can take legal action against the perpetrator of the crime. In addition, the U visa recipient provides valuable information regarding the crime to US police and other relevant law enforcement agencies. This information is then used to track down the perpetrator and secure a conviction.

Who is eligible for a U visa?

To be eligible for a U visa, you must:

  1. Have been the victim of a qualifying crime.
  2. Have substantial evidence to support your claim for a U visa (e.g., a physical injury, mental illness, etc.).
  3. An indirect or bystander victim of a crime. For example, a U visa cannot be granted to a murder victim, but someone who witnessed the crime or who was close to the victim may have valuable information that law enforcement can use to support their claim. For more information on both direct and indirect victims, you can speak with an immigration lawyer.
  4. You have relevant information about the crime (or if you are under 16, your parents, guardians, or “next friends” such as counselors or social workers can provide this information. This means you or your parents or guardians will have to be “helpful” to law enforcement in bringing the perpetrator to justice for the crime.
  5. You must be admissible in the United States or apply for a waiver as a non-immigrant through form I-192.

You can obtain a U visa from the United States or abroad at any US consulate or embassy. Keep reading to learn more about the evidence you need to prove you are eligible for a U visa. It is important to consult with an immigration lawyer with experience handling U visa applications.

The crimes that qualify for a U visa

In most cases, you will be the victim of a crime committed in the US. However, in some cases, the crime may have breached US law abroad (e.g., a crime of human trafficking or a crime of kidnapping). Some examples of qualifying crimes include:

  • Serious crimes.
  • Crimes involving sexual exploitation.
  • Crimes involving human enslavement.
  • Fraudulent labor contract.
  • Crimes involving obstruction of justice.

The crime does not have to have been “completed” for it to be eligible. It only needs to have been attempted, solicited or conspired to commit any of the above crimes. For instance, a murder victim would not be eligible for a U visa. However, if you are a victim of an attempted murder, then you may be eligible for the U visa.

The benefits of the U visas

Victims who are granted a U visa are allowed to stay in the United States for the duration of their visa. They are considered legal non-citizens and are entitled to:

  • Have a US bank account.
  • Have a US driver’s license.
  • Complete an accredited academic or vocational program.
  • Work as a legal employee.

The right to work is an automatic right for holders of U visas. After the victim gets U visa status, they get an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) and do not have to file form I-765 to get an EAD. The EAD allows U visa holders to work in any legal sector and any job, full-time or part-time.

U visa holders do not need to get a job right away. EADs only give the victim the right to work when the victim wants or feels able to work. The U visa also provides a path to citizenship. After your U visa is approved, you can later become a legal permanent resident in the US. Your U visa status is limited to 4 years but can be renewed.

After your 3rd year as a holder of a U visa, you can talk to an immigration lawyer regarding your eligibility for a green card. When you are ready to file for your green card, consult one of our immigration lawyers to guide you on your next steps.

Proving serious physical or mental abuse

It is not enough to just be a victim of a crime that qualifies. You must have sustained “serious” physical injury or mental distress as a result of the crime, and you must submit medical records and sworn statements to USCIS in support of your claim.

To determine whether your injury was “serious,” the USCIS will take into account the severity of the injury, the duration of the abuse, and the likelihood of lasting or permanent damage. You must submit a personal statement describing the physical or mental injury you suffered, medical records or sworn statements from treating physicians or psychologists, photographs of your physical injuries, and sworn statements from social workers.

The certificate of helpfulness

One of the reasons why U visas are authorized is that many immigrants in the US don’t want to share information with law enforcement. This is largely because of cultural differences, language issues, and fear of deportation. Because of this, many criminals have seen immigrants as a good “target” for committing serious crimes.

To be eligible for a U visa, your petition needs to be certified by a law enforcement officer (or another law enforcement official) using form I-918B. The law enforcement agency needs to certify that you were “victimized” in a qualifying crime. The certificate will also state that you are “potentially useful” to them in investigating or prosecuting that crime.

Law enforcement agencies aren’t the only ones that can issue a certificate of helpfulness. Any agency responsible for investigating or prosecuting a qualifying crime or criminal activity can complete the certificate.

Cooperation with law enforcement agencies and information that could identify, apprehend, and punish a criminal are essential to obtaining a U visa. However, law enforcement agencies aren’t required to provide a “certificate of helpfulness” (except in certain states that have enacted laws that require them to do so).

Applying for a U visa

If you are outside the US, the first step in the US visa application process is to fill out form DS-160. This online form is the first step in applying for any nonimmigrant visa. When you submit all the information and details of your visa, you will receive a confirmation page and a number for your documents file.

Once you have completed your application for a U visa, you will need to collect the necessary documents and submit them to the US embassy. You will also need to book and attend an interview. If you are in the US at the time of your application, you will need to submit the following documents to USCIS:

  • Form I-918.
  • Form I-918B. This is your Certificate of Helpfulness, issued by a law enforcement officer and agency. It states that you have been helpful in a criminal case or will be helpful in a future criminal case for a successful investigation.
  • A personal statement that describes your circumstances, the crime you were involved in, the abuse you suffered, and the police and court records that prove you were a victim.
  • Medical records from physicians and hospitals that prove you have suffered significant physical or mental abuse directly from the crime.
  • Documents that prove your identity, such as your passport or birth certificate.
  • Letters from loved ones describing the abuse you suffered as a result of the crime.

The USCIS will then review the petition to determine eligibility and request additional documentation if needed. If you qualify for a U visa but meet the statutory cap of 10,000 U visas per fiscal year, the USCIS will add you to a waiting list for a visa.

Once a visa becomes available, the USCIS will re-examine your file to confirm eligibility. Then, the USCIS will decide to either approve or disapprove your application.

Get help!

If you believe that you are a candidate for a U visa based on the information provided above, begin your U visa application as soon as possible. It is a good idea to do this with the help of a licensed and experienced immigration lawyer.

At Gehi and Associates, we can guide you through the entire process. Our experienced immigration lawyer can explain the steps to getting a certification of helpfulness and other relevant documents. Contact us right away!

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