What is the U Nonimmigrant Visa for Victims of Crime?
Oftentimes, immigrants in the United States illegally avoid contacting law enforcement officials out of fear they will be deported. This holds true even in cases where the illegal immigrant is the victim of a serious crime, such as domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, etc. The U nonimmigrant visa exists to protect these individuals, allowing them to report crime without fear of repercussions, as well as to assist law enforcement authorities with their investigations.
About the U Visa and Eligibility
The U Visa was introduced in 2000 as part of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act to encourage undocumented immigrants to report serious crime rather than living in fear that doing so will lead to their own deportation. Instead, they would be given the option of this 4 year visa by assisting in law enforcement. It is important to know that this visa is not automatically given. The U visa petition requires certification by a law enforcement agency, such as police, prosecutor, or judge, that the victim was significantly helpful in the investigation or prosecution of the qualifying crime at hand. This, along with proof that the victim was, in fact, a victim of the crime, will determine the individual’s eligibility. Such proof is partially established by a personal statement describing the criminal activity that victimized the individual.
Additionally, the crime must have occurred in the United States and the individual reporting the crime must be otherwise admissible to the USA. If they are not, they must file a Form I-192 to request a waiver of inadmissibility.
Family Member Eligibility for the U Visa
Certain family members will qualify for a derivative U visa, depending on their relationship to the primary visa applicant. The principal applicant must first have their visa approved, however, in order for family members to obtain theirs. Eligible family members include spouse and children if the primary applicant is over age 21. If the primary applicant is under the age of 21, they may be eligible to petition for spouse, children, parents, and unmarried siblings under age 18.
The U Visa Cap
According to USCIS, “each year, 10,000 U visas are available for victims of certain qualifying crimes who have suffered substantial mental or physical abuse and are willing to help law enforcement authorities investigate or prosecute those crimes” (uscis.gov). Some argue that this cap will discourage undocumented immigrants from reporting such crimes once the cap has been filled, as they may be deterred by the looming waitlist. This begs the question, would lifting this cap encourage the report of more crimes? Would it assist law enforcement in catching criminals?
Currently, USCIS provides work authorization and deferred action to those on the waitlist who are likely eligible and are just waiting for visa availability. Family members of the victim are also eligible for work authorization, but are not automatically granted it and must apply. Perhaps the option of a waitlist, therefore, could be enough to encourage undocumented immigrants to report crimes of which they are a victim.
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