Victims of certain crimes may be eligible for their green cards due to the “Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act.” This law allows foreign citizens to be granted U Visas, which will ultimately permit them to be granted permanent resident status in the U.S. (green cards). It also allows their family members to also potentially be granted green cards.
The purpose of the U visa is to both protect the victim and assist law enforcement in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking, forced labor, and sexual assault, along with other crimes involving violence, enslavement, and the obstruction of justice. As such, U visas are intended for victims who have suffered abuse and who are willing to help the authorities investigate and prosecute criminal activity.
Am I Eligible?
You must meet the following requirements to be eligible for a U visa:
• Be the victim of a qualifying crime;
• Have suffered serious abuse as the victim of that crime;
• Have information about the crime;
• Be willing to help law enforcement with their investigation of the crime; and
• Have been the victim of a crime that occurred in the U.S. or was in violation of U.S. laws.
If you are unable to effectively assist law enforcement due to disability or your age (under age 16), a parent or guardian may provide information and assistance on your behalf.
What is a Qualifying Crime?
To be eligible for a U visa, you must be the victim, indirect victim, or bystander victim of a qualifying crime. Although not exhaustive, the list below provides common examples of qualifying crimes:
• Kidnapping or abduction
• Sexual abuse
• Domestic violence
• Female genital mutilation
• False imprisonment
• Obstruction of justice
• Manslaughter and murder
• Slave trade
If approved for a U visa, you will receive legal status to live and work in the U.S. for up to four years. However, after three years have passed, you may be able to start the process of obtaining your green card.
Substantial Physical or Mental Abuse
In addition to being a victim of a qualifying crime, you must also have suffered “substantial” physical and / or mental abuse as a result. To prove substantial abuse, you will need to provide documentation to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) to substantiate your claim. Medical records, statements from mental health professionals, photographs, affidavits from social workers, and a personal statement may help the USCIS determine the severity and duration of the abuse you endured. An experienced immigration lawyer can help you gather the appropriate evidence and present it in the most effective manner possible.
Certificate of Helpfulness
For years, immigrants – especially those living in the U.S. unlawfully – have been viewed as the ideal target for criminal activities because of their reluctance to reach out to law enforcement. Due to language barriers and / or the fear of deportation, immigrants are less likely to report crime. The U visa was created in response to this growing safety issue. As such, it is not enough to have suffered substantial abuse as the victim of a qualifying crime, you must also be willing to help law enforcement prosecute the perpetrator(s) of that crime. For this reason, your petition for a U visa must be certified by a law enforcement official who attests that you will be helpful to the investigation and / or prosecution of the qualifying crime. Therefore, the more information you provide to law enforcement, the more likely you will be to obtain the required certificate of helpfulness.
What About My Family Members?
Certain family members may qualify for a derivative U visa, based on your eligibility. Qualifying family members include:
• Unmarried children (if under 21)
• Parents (if the petitioner is under 21)
• Unmarried siblings (if under 18, and the petitioner is under 21)
Time is of the Essence
When criminal activity is involved, time is of the essence. Memories fade, and with them helpful details of the crime. In addition to the ability to recall important information, a timely filing can also help you convince USCIS of the important role you play in the investigation and prosecution of the associated crime.
Reeves Miller Zhang & Diza – Full-Service Immigration Law
If you think you may be potentially eligible for a U visa, the skilled legal team at Reeves Miller Zhang & Diza can help. The required application and supporting documents are complex, but we are able to help you successfully apply and be granted your U visa, and thereafter your green card. Don’t make the mistake of attempting to apply on your own. Contact Reeves Miller Zhang & Diza today for a confidential consultation about your case.