A U-Visa is a specific type of non-immigrant visa reserved for victims of crime, and their immediate family, who assist law enforcement and government officials in the investigation or prosecution of criminal activity. Its purpose is to protect and reward non-citizens who may have suffered mental or physical abuse from a criminal.

Why Were U-Visa’s Created?

U-Visas were created with the passage of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act. It was passed into law in 2000. It is meant to encourage non-citizen victims to work with law enforcement and government officials in order to prosecute criminal activity without the victim having to fear deportation.

Who Can Qualify for a U-Visa?

To qualify for a U-Visa, the individual must demonstrate the following:

  • They must be a victim of a criminal activity and have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result;
  • They must have information concerning the criminal activity; and,
  • They must be willing and helpful in prosecuting the crime, or be willing to help in the investigation.

Moreover, the crime must be against U.S. law and must have been committed on U.S. soil.

Family members, such as the spouse and child, of a victim may also be covered by a U-Visa. Known as a U Derivative Visa, it can be issued if the principal victim petitions on behalf of the family member.

What Crimes Can Be Claimed in a U-Visa Application?

In order to be eligible for a U-Visa, you must be able to provide information about a qualifying crime. There are twenty-eight qualifying crimes, including domestic violence, rape, human trafficking, torture, hostage situations, false imprisonment, sexual assault or abuse, prostitution, or other similar crimes. Qualifying crimes can also include the attempt, conspiracy, or solicitation to commit any of the above crimes.

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Can a U-Visa Holder Gain U.S. Citizenship?

Yes. A U-Visa is valid for no more than four years, although it can be renewed so long as there is supporting evidence from a certifying agency (such as law enforcement, district attorney, etc.). Under certain circumstances, a U-Visa holder can become a permanent resident.

If a Visa holder retains permanent residence in the United States for at least five years and meets other requirements, then they can file for U.S. citizenship.

Can an Alien Avoid Removal or Deportation by Filing for a U-Visa?

Normally, a non-citizen who is facing criminal charges may be subject to removal or deportation under immigration laws.  However, filing for a U-visa may be a means for obtaining relief from removal. If the immigrant is eligible for a U-visa, it can provide them protection against the removal process.

An immigration judge will need to conduct a thorough analysis of the entire situation.  They are likely going to balance the victim’s need for protection under a U-visa against any crimes for which they’re facing charges.  It is also helpful if the U-visa applicant has a valid criminal defense for the charges, such as self-defense in relation to the domestic violence of which they were a victim. 

Should I Seek Legal Counsel?

If you are a non-citizen immigrant and have been a victim of a serious crime, you may want to apply for a U-Visa. The application can be complicated to fill out. A knowledgeable immigration attorney can help you fill out proper paperwork and represent you during formal immigration court hearings.