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Apr 04, 2024 | Nancy Chen

U Visa: Eligibility for Adjusted Immigrant Status By Witnessing a Crime

U visa is granted to victims of a crime who helped law enforcement or authorities investigate or prosecute criminal activities.

The U nonimmigrant visa, established in 2000, is granted to individuals who have suffered mental or physical abuse from a crime and helped law enforcement or authorities with investigating or prosecuting criminal activities. It aims to foster cooperation between immigrants and law enforcement and offers migrants a legal pathway to temporary immigrant status. How to apply for a U visa? What counts as a criminal activity? This guide provides answers to these questions.

What is a U visa and who can apply?

A person can apply for a U visa if they are a victim of a qualifying criminal activity that happened in the U.S. or violated the U.S. law, and they have information about the crime which they are likely to share with authorities to support investigation, prosecution or conviction of the perpetrator.

The purpose of the U visa is that the victim, even if they are undocumented, would feel safer to report the crime and cooperate with law enforcement authorities.

Also Read: The Yonkers Police Department Is Refusing to Help a Stabbing Victim Get a Visa

If a U visa application is approved, the applicant will be granted temporary immigration status including work authorization. They can also file temporary immigration status for qualifying family members. It’s also possible for them to gain lawful permanent resident status.

The number of U visas granted each year to primary petitioners is limited to 10,000. If the cap is met, then the remaining people applying for a U visa are put on a waiting list. Then, they can be granted deferred action or parole and can apply for work authorization while waiting for more U visas to become available, according to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

An issue with U visa, however, is that there is a serious backlog. The current waiting list of U visa applicants exceeds 344,000 individuals, including the victims and their family members, as of Q4 fiscal year 2023, USCIS data shows.

U visa application and qualifying crimes

The Department of Homeland Security has listed qualifying crimes or criminal activities for a U visa, which include trafficking, extortion, kidnapping and more.

To apply for a U visa, you need to file Form I-918, Petition for U Nonimmigrant Status and Form I-918, Supplement B, U Nonimmigrant Status Certification, the latter of which should be filled by a certifying official. If you want to apply for your family members, fill out Form I-918, Supplement A, Petition for Qualifying Family Member of U-1 Recipient. There is no fee for filing these forms.

Visit the USCIS website for instructions on how to fill out Form I-918 and Supplement A and Supplement B and read the document by DHS for information on who can be the certifying official.

The USCIS website provides a checklist of required initial evidence for your reference. It also tells you where to mail the form, depending on where you live.

If you are the primary petitioner, you will be automatically granted the authorization to work and do not need to file Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization to receive your Employment Authorization Document (EAD). If you are the derivative petitioner, you need to file Form I-765 and receive your EAD.

U visa processing times

According to USCIS average case processing times, 80% of applications for Form I-918, Petition for U Nonimmigrant Status, are resolved within 5 years.

Applicants can file Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status if you need to extend your U visa status. U visa recipients should apply for an extension of stay or change of status before their current authorized stay expires. For more information on filing Form I-539, read Documented’s previous article: How To Extend A Nonimmigrant Tourist Visa (although there’s a “tourist” in the headline, this article is about Form I-539, which covers many nonimmigrant visa categories).

It is also possible for to become a lawful permanent resident as a U visa holder. Primary petitioners must:

  • Have filed Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status
  • Were lawfully admitted in U-1 nonimmigrant status
  • Be in U-1 status when filing Form I-485
  • Be continuously physically present in the U.S. for at least three years since being admitted as a U-1 nonimmigrant. The applicant should have been continuously present for at least three years at the time of filing Form I-485 and must continue to be physically present through the date that USCIS makes a decision on the adjustment application
  • Not have unreasonably refused to help in the investigation or prosecution of the qualifying criminal activity
  • Not be inadmissible under INA section 212(a)(3)(E)
  • Merit “a favorable exercise of discretion”

In addition, the applicant’s presence in the country should be justified on humanitarian grounds, to ensure family unity, or is in the public interest. To see what inadmissibility and discretion mean, read USCIS’ guidance on “Green Card for a Victim of a Crime (U Nonimmigrant)”.

Certain family members of a U-1 nonimmigrant may also qualify for a Green Card, either as a family member who holds a derivative U visa or not.

In general, U visa applicants should avoid traveling abroad if they have a pending Form I-485 without an advance parole document, because that means they will have abandoned your application. If they need to temporarily leave the country, however, follow the instructions according to Form I-131, Application for Travel Document.

Also Read: Advance Parole: How DACA Recipients Can Travel and Re-Enter the Country

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