The U visa is a nonimmigrant visa designed to protect victims of crimes who are willing to cooperate or who did cooperate with law enforcement and government officials involved in the investigation and prosecution of criminal activity. The family members of these crime victims may also be eligible for protection under U.S. law. The purpose behind the U visa is twofold: to provide temporary legal status to victims of crime who have suffered serious physical and/or mental abuse, and to aid the cause of bringing criminals to justice.
How the U Visa Works
There are only a limited number of U visas (10,000) issued annually in the United States. These visas give victims of particular crimes a temporary legal status to live and work in the U.S. for up to 4 years. In many cases, protected parties include family members — spouses, children, unmarried sisters and brothers under 18, mothers, fathers, stepparents and adoptive parents. An approved U visa generates an Employment Authorization Document which can be shown to any employer so that the petitioner can obtain a Social Security Number and begin working legally in the U.S. At present, all U visa applications are processed in the Vermont Service Center.
Crimes That Qualify You for a U Visa
In order to be eligible for a U visa, an individual must have suffered as a result of criminal activity. Reasons for a U visa include being a victim of any of the following crimes or being solicited to participate in any of them:
- Rape, sexual assault, abusive sexual contact, prostitution, sexual exploitation
- Human trafficking, incest, domestic violence, female genital mutilation
- Hostage-taking, involuntary servitude, slave trade, peonage
- Kidnapping, abduction, unlawful criminal restraint
- Blackmail, extortion, manslaughter, murder, felonious assault
- Witness tampering, obstruction of justice, perjury, conspiracy
- Fraud in Foreign Labor Contracting
In order to obtain a U visa, the petitioner must not only be the victim of one of the above crimes, but the crime must have occurred within the U.S. or violated U.S. law. A portion of the necessary form (Form I-918) must also be certified by a federal, state or local law enforcement agency, and the individual must agree to assist government agencies in investigating and prosecuting the criminal activity. If at any time the petitioner refuses to continue cooperating with U.S. authorities, the U visa certification can be withdrawn.
It should be noted that if you are under the age of 16 or unable to reveal information about the criminal activity due to a disability, you may be able to communicate such information through a parent, guardian or “next friend.”
The Application Process for a U Visa
As with most government procedures, there are a number of steps involved in applying for a U visa, so it is essential that you have an experienced immigration attorney, like Laura Talamantes, of Talamantes Immigration Law Firm, APC, to help you through the process. Because, for most people going through this application process, the results are crucial, it is important to have a highly qualified lawyer to make sure that your paperwork is in order, any necessary fees paid or waived, and that you are fully compliant with the bureaucratic moves involved. An experienced immigration attorney will also be able to help you if you require an extension of your U visa or have other exceptional circumstances. Talamantes Immigration Law Firm can be reached at: 619.916.4570. Talamantes Immigration Law Firm helps clients throughout Chula Vista including but not limited to those living in Bonita, Imperial Beach, Lemon Grove, San Ysidro and National City.