"U" Nonimmigrant Visas - Victims of Criminal Activity
Congress created the "U" nonimmigrant classification with passage of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act in October 2000. The legislation was intended to strengthen the ability of law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute cases of domestic violence, sexual assault, trafficking of aliens and other crimes while, at the same time, offering protection to victims of such crimes. The U nonimmigrant status is set aside for victims of crimes who have suffered mental or physical abuse as a result and who are willing to assist law enforcement and government officials in the investigation of the criminal activity.
USCIS may grant no more than 10,000 principal aliens U nonimmigrant status in any given fiscal year (October 1 through September 30). This does not apply to spouses, children or other qualifying family members who are accompanying or following to join the principal alien victim. If the cap is reached in any fiscal year before all petitions are adjudicated, USCIS will create a waiting list to allow victims cooperating with law enforcement agencies the ability to stabilize their immigration status. Further, petitioners assigned to the waiting list will be given deferred action – that is, they will be eligible to apply for employment authorization or travel – until their petitions can be adjudicated after the start of the following fiscal year.
There are four statutory eligibility requirements:
- The individual must have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of having been a victim of a qualifying criminal activity. Qualifying criminal activity is defined by statute as that being an activity involving one or more of a long list of activities that violate Federal, State, or local criminal law – from murder, rape, torture, sexual exploitation, and extortion to witness tampering, obstruction of justice, false imprisonment, etc. This is not an exclusive list – in fact, the list of qualifying crimes represents the many types of behavior that can constitute domestic violence, sexual abuse, trafficking, or other crimes which vulnerable immigrants are often targeted.
- He/She has information concerning that criminal activity.
- He/She has been helpful, is being helpful, or is likely to be helpful in the investigation or prosecution of the crime, and
- The criminal activity must have violated the laws of the United States or occurred in the U.S.
Process to Obtain the U Visa
To petition for U nonimmigrant status, the victim or someone petitioning on the victim’s behalf must submit Form I-918. A petition for U nonimmigrant status must also contain a certification of helpfulness from a "certifying agency." That means the victim must provide a U Nonimmigrant Status Certification (Form I-918, Supplement B) from a federal, state, or local law enforcement agency that demonstrates the petitioner "has been helpful, is being helpful, or is likely to be helpful" in the investigation or prosecution of the criminal activity. Further, the head of the agency must sign the certification. Certified agencies include federal, state, or local law enforcement agencies; or a prosecutor, judge or other authority that has responsibility for the investigation of the criminal activity. Other agencies such as child protective services, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the Department of Labor also qualify as certifying agencies since they have criminal investigative jurisdiction within their respective areas of expertise.
A petition may also be submitted for eligible family members to obtain U nonimmigrant status using Form I-929.
Please note, USCIS has determined that the statutory framework for U nonimmigrant status permits alien victims of criminal activity to apply for such status either inside or outside the U.S.
Can an individual who has held U nonimmigrant status eventually apply for permanent resident status?
Those who have been granted U-1 nonimmigrant status may file for permanent residency using Form I-485 upon meeting certain requirements. An individual must have been physically present in the U.S. for a continuous period of at least three years since the date of admission as a U nonimmigrant, and the agency must determine that the individual's continued presence in the country is justified on humanitarian grounds to ensure continuation of a cohesive family, or is otherwise in the best interest of the public.
Validity Period and Extensions
U nonimmigrant status cannot exceed four years; however, extensions are permitted upon certification by a certifying agency that the alien's presence in the U.S. is required to assist in the investigation or prosecution of a qualifying criminal activity.
While family members who accompany the petitioner can, under certain circumstances, obtain U nonimmigrant status, they cannot apply on their own behalf. The principal petitioner (alien victim) must petition on behalf of qualifying family members who are admissible to the U.S. Family members who qualify depend on the principal petitioner.
- If the principal petitioner is under 21 years of age, they may petition on behalf of:
- Unmarried siblings under age 18
- If the principal petitioner is 21 years of age or older, they may petition on behalf of:
The principal petitioner would file Form I-918, Supplement A, on behalf of their qualifying family members.