Visas for Victims of Crimes

Being the victim of a crime is terrifying, and for someone who does not have lawful immigration status, it can be even more frightening. A resident or citizen would have no question about reporting a crime, whereas an undocumented person would wonder if they report the crime, if they can be reported to the immigration authorities. Fortunately, U.S. immigration laws allow for certain victims of qualified crimes to remain in the United States lawfully.

The U visa requires: 1) the victim to have suffered substantial mental or physical abuse as a result of being a victim of a qualifying criminal activity; 2) the victim to have information concerning that criminal activity; 3) the victim to have been, is being, or will likely be helpful in the investigation or prosecution of the case; and 4) that the criminal activity have violated U.S. laws.  A person is not a victim if he or she is culpable for any of the criminal activity.

There is a cap of 10,000 visas that can be issued every fiscal year, which have been met almost every year since the program’s inception. Family members can also derive benefits from the principle’s U-visa application. If the principle applicant is under 21 years of age, he or she can also petition on behalf of his or her spouse, children, parents, and unmarried siblings under 18 years old.  If the principle applicant is 21 years or older, he or she may only petition for their spouses and children under 21 years old. The cap does not include derivative family members.

“Criminal activity” does not necessarily include any and all crimes. The law defines “criminal activity” to be one or more activities that violate federal, state, or local criminal laws, including but not limited to: abduction, blackmail, domestic violence, extortion, false imprisonment, felonious assault, incest, hostage, murder, obstruction of justice, prostitution, rape, sexual assault, sexual exploitation, torture, witness tampering, unlawful criminal restraint, and other related crimes.

If approved, the applicant will be given a visa for four years, and may be extended if his or her presence continues to be necessary in the investigation of prosecution of the criminal activity in which he or she was involved.  Eventually, a U visa holder may even apply for a green card if they meet certain requirements. If you think you may qualify, call an experienced attorney.