The U visa is a non-immigrant 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 citizenship.
Congress created the U 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 visa. Family members who accompany the petitioner can, under certain circumstances obtain a U derivative visa. The U visa principal 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 a U visa holder 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.