U-Visa: A primer

One of the more recent types of visas, the U-Visa, is designed to help those who been victims of crime in the United States. The goal is also to encourage victims to cooperate in the prosecution of crime, as evidenced by the requirement that someone cooperate with law enforcement as part of the visa process.

Basic requirements

In order to qualify, you must meet a few basic requirements:

  • You were the victim of a qualifying crime.
  • You suffered physical or mental abuse as a result.
  • You are helpful or likely to be helpful to law enforcement.
  • The crime occurred in the U.S.
  • You are admissible to the United States.

The list of qualifying crimes generally includes crimes of violence (domestic and otherwise), kidnapping, extortion, and various sexual crimes.

For the requirement that you be "helpful," you must provide the signature from an authorized employee of a law enforcement agency, such as a police department, or a prosecutor or judge. Certain other agencies, such as child protective services or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, can sign the form on your behalf as well.

If you meet the basic requirements, you can submit the necessary information. As of April 2014, there is no filing fee to request a U-Visa.

Admissibility

One of the other requirements is admissibility. Federal law sets out certain types of immigrants that are not allowed to be given visas for entry into the United States. There is a fairly wide range of these, including things like having certain communicable diseases, a conviction of a crime involving lying, cheating, or stealing, prostitution, drug trafficking, being previously removed from the United States, and the like.

These are not an absolute bar, however. An individual who is inadmissible may ask the Department of Homeland Security to waive the admissibility requirement. Waiver is generally at the Department's discretion, meaning that depending on the reason an individual is inadmissible, there may not be any legal exceptions to that admissibility. At that point it is entirely within the judgment of the Department to decide whether to admit the person or not.

Other reasons may have some legal exceptions. For example, someone is inadmissible if they had previously made a false statement that they were an American citizen. However, there is an exception where the individual's parents are citizens, he or she lived in the U.S. continuously since before age 16, and the person reasonably believed he or she was a citizen.

There are too many reasons for inadmissibility and exceptions to fully cover here.

Family Members

Another issue is whether someone seeking a U-Visa can bring family members with them. The answer is yes, in certain circumstances. If the person applying for the visa is under 21, he or she may also apply on behalf of a spouse, children, parents, and any unmarried brothers or sisters who are under age 18. If the person applying is over 21, they may apply on behalf of a spouse or children only.

As with any part of the immigration process, the application process has multiple steps, twists, and turns. For that reason it is better not to go it alone. If you have been the victim of crime in the United States and think you may qualify for a U-Visa, you should contact an experienced immigration attorney right away.