The U visa is a nonimmigrant visa that is reserved for victims of crime who assist law enforcement. It is meant to protect, and arguably reward, non-citizens who have suffered significant mental or physical abuse from a qualifying criminal activity.
U visa holders have legal status in the United States, receive employment authorization (work permit), and even a possible path to a green card and U.S. citizenship.
Congress created the U nonimmigrant visa through the passage of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act in October 2000. The goal of the legislation is to encourage non-citizen victims to cooperate with police and prosecutors without the fear of deportation.
Qualifying for a U Visa
There are four statutory eligibility requirements. The individual must:
- The individual must have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of having been a victim of a qualifying criminal activity.
- The individual must have information concerning that criminal activity.
- The individual must have been helpful, is being helpful, or is likely to be helpful in the investigation or prosecution of the crime.
- The criminal activity violated U.S. laws
For a complete list of qualifying criminal activity, go the USCIS U Visa page. In addition to fully cooperating with law enforcement, the victim must receive a certifying statement from the department or official investigating the case. If the victim meets the eligibility requirements and has a certified statement, he or she can apply using Form I-918, Petition for U Nonimmigrant Status.
It is possible for family members (spouse and children) to be covered with the same U status. Family members who accompany the petitioner can, under certain circumstances obtain a U derivative visa. The U principal visa holder must petition on behalf of qualifying family members.
Path to Citizenship
The U visa is valid for a period of not more than four years but may be renewed with the support of the certifying agency (police, district attorney, etc.). There are circumstances which make it possible for someone in U nonimmigrant status to adjust status to permanent resident. The applicant would be required to have the U visa for three years and receive the support of the certifying agency. After five years and meeting several other requirements, a permanent resident can file for U.S. citizenship.
RECOMMENDED: Green Card through Adjustment of Status
Applying for U Nonimmigrant Status
It’s possible to apply for U status inside or outside the United States. You may be eligible even if you are in the country unlawfully. If you are the victim of crime and feel you may qualify for U nonimmigrant status, contact an immigration attorney who can help you prepare the case.