The U Visa program: guiding victims of crime to residency or citizenship

Victims of criminal activity could be allowed to stay in the U.S. with a "U Visa."

Imagine you are a foreign national willing to endure hardship or incur debt to get the chance to come to America. Now imagine that, instead of being a dream come true, your life in the U.S. turns into a nightmare as you become the victim of a crime. Not only has your hope at the American dream been dashed, you face being deported back to your home country. Thankfully for those who have suffered substantial physical, mental or emotional harm due to the criminal activity of another person or entity, the U.S. government recognizes the humanitarian need to protect victims of crime through the "U nonimmigrant visa" program.

What is a U visa?

A U visa is a special category of visa set aside for victims of crime who are willing to cooperate with law enforcement officials and aid in the prosecution of those who hurt them. People seeking these visas must not only have been subjected to a particular crime that took place on U.S. soil (or in a foreign country in violation of U.S. law), they must also show that they suffered substantial physical or mental deficit as a result. There is an annual fiscal-year limit of 10,000 U visas available, and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) reports that the cap has been reached already for fiscal year 2015 (which began on October 1, 2015); no more visas will be granted until October 1, 2016 at the earliest, but eligible applicants are put on a waiting list and offered deferred adjudication of removal until such time as their applications can be considered.

Who is eligible for a U nonimmigrant visa?

Technically, any immigrant who has been the victim of a crime on U.S. soil or in violation of U.S. law, is willing to cooperate with law enforcement to prosecute the offender and suffered substantial physical or mental harm can apply for a U nonimmigrant visa. There are particular crimes that more commonly are associated with victims seeking U visa applications, however, including:

  • Human trafficking/prostitution
  • Abduction/hostage situations
  • Domestic violence
  • Kidnapping
  • Rape and other sex crimes
  • Indentured servitude

This, of course, doesn't necessarily mean that the application will be granted, particularly in light of yearly caps and strict qualification criteria. There have been several high-profile cases recently of people who were victimized and cooperated - one of them actually organized fellow victims and spoke at the White House to bring awareness to the issue of indentured servitude - but still didn't qualify for a U visa.

In conjunction with the U visa program, those granted U nonimmigrant visas can petition to bring family members to America. There are no annual caps on the number of relatives who can immigrate subject to a person's status as a U visa holder.

Qualifying for this specialized visa program

As with any other cap-limited visa program, competition is tight for U visas. That is why it is vital to properly and correctly submit all application paperwork. To give yourself a statistically better chance of having your visa application approved, work with an experienced immigration law attorney like those at the Miami law office of Kurtzban, Kurtzban, Weinger, Tetzeli and Pratt. Call the firm at 305-444-0600 or send them an email.