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Know the Laws:

UPDATED April 23, 2013

U Visa Laws for Crime Victims

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This page includes information about obtaining lawful status if you are the victim of certain crimes (including domestic abuse) and can obtain a certification that you are, have been or will be helpful in the investigation or prosecution of the crime.

Basic info and definitions

back to topWhat is U visa status?

U visa status (also known as U nonimmigrant status) was created by the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000.*  It is designed to provide lawful status to noncitizen crime victims who are assisting or are willing to assist the authorities in investigating crimes.*1

The U visa status may be available to victims of domestic violence crimes or victims of certain other crimes (which can be crimes that have nothing to do with domestic violence).

If you are a noncitizen victim of crime, you must meet ALL of these requirements:

  1. you have a certification from law enforcement or another certifying agency that you "have been helpful, are helpful, or are likely to be helpful in the investigation or prosecution" of one of the categories of crimes listed in the U visa statute;
  2. you can show that you suffered substantial physical or mental abuse from the crime certified;
  3. you can show that you have information regarding the criminal activity, usually explained in the certification; and
  4. the criminal activity violated U.S. law; or occurred in the U.S. (including Indian [Native American] country and military installations) or the territories and possessions of the U.S., also usually explained in the certification.
U visa applicants also must show that they are "admissible" or that they qualify for a waiver of inadmissibility if they are not.**  Note: See more information about eligibility requirements under Am I eligible for U visa status? What crimes could qualify me?

Immigration laws are complicated and the pages below will help give you some basic information about U visa status.  WomensLaw.org strongly recommends that you consult with an immigration lawyer familiar with U visas before applying to see if you qualify for this or other forms of immigration relief.  Please see the national organizations listed on our Immigration/International page.  For general legal services organizations, not immigration-specific, and referral services to private attorneys, go to our Finding a Lawyer page.  Remember to ask the lawyer you are considering working with whether s/he has filed for U visas or has been trained on how to file for U visas, since this may be something immigration lawyers or other lawyers are not normally trained to do.  For assistance, your attorney can contact ASISTA.

* Pub. L. No. 106-386, 114 Stat. 1464 (2000) (including the Battered Immigrant Women’s Protection Act of 2000, Pub. L. No. 106-386, 114 Stat. 1518 (2000))
** USCIS website – Questions & Answers: Victims of Criminal Activity, U Visa Status – Background

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back to topWhat is a principal applicant? What is a derivative?

A principal applicant is the person who applies for an immigration benefit, such as U visa status. 

A derivative is another person (usually a family member) who may also receive lawful status through the principal applicant’s status.  Since the family member’s status is "derived" from the principal applicant’s status, the family member is known as a “derivative” under immigration law.*  Although U visa derivatives do not have to meet all of the eligibility requirements for principal U visa applicants, they do have to show they are admissible or they have to file a waiver if they are inadmissible. 

To read about principal applicants (known as U-1) and derivatives (known as U-2, U-3, U-4, U5) in the context of U visa status, see What family members may be considered derivatives?

* USCIS website – Glossary

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back to topWhat are the grounds of inadmissibility?

One of the basic requirements to obtain U visa status is that you are not in violation of the immigration law's "inadmissibility" grounds or, if you are, that a waiver is filed to ask that those violations be excused.*  The inadmissibility grounds are reasons why someone may not be able to receive an immigration benefit, like being able to enter the U.S. or receive a green card.  Some of the inadmissibility grounds include:

  • unlawful presence (being in the U.S. without permission and then leaving the U.S.);
  • certain crimes;
  • entering the U.S. without permission;
  • having lied to immigration;
  • falsely claiming to be a U.S. citizen for any benefit; and
  • security grounds (related to terrorism).**  Note: This is not a complete list.
* INA § 212(d)(14)
** INA §§ 212(a)(9)(B), 212(a)(2), 212(a)(6)(A)(i), 212(a)(6)(C)(i), 212(a)(6)(C)(ii), 212(a)(3)

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back to topWhat is a waiver?

A waiver is a form that your lawyer can fill out to ask Immigration to forgive something that makes you inadmissible.  For people applying for U visa status, all grounds of inadmissibility can be waived except for participation in Nazi persecution, genocide, or having committed any act of torture or extrajudicial killing. This waiver is discretionary, which means that your request may or may not be approved – it is up to Immigration officials.*  If you are inadmissible under the crime-related grounds, Immigration officials will consider the number and the seriousness of the offenses you were convicted of.  In cases involving violent or dangerous crimes or involving the security grounds (related to terrorism), Immigration will only approve the waiver in extraordinary circumstances.**

An immigration attorney should be able to determine if you fall under any of the inadmissibility grounds, and if there are exceptions or waivers available to you. To find help, please go to the International/Immigration organizations listed on our National Organizations page.  You can also find the contact information of general legal services organizations, not immigration-specific, and referral services to private attorneys here: Finding a Lawyer.  Please make sure that your lawyer is employed by (or gets help from) a national organization with expertise in U visas, since U visa waivers are different than most other waivers. Your lawyer can call ASISTA, a national organization that specializes in immigration training for professionals.

* INA § 212(d)(14)
** 8 CFR § 214.1(b)(2)

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back to topWhat is the law enforcement “certification”?

To complete your application for U visa status, your attorney will have to get law enforcement to fill out a U visa status certification, which is a form that that states that you have been helpful, are being helpful, or are likely to be helpful to the authorities investigating or prosecuting the criminal activity.*  From the moment you start to cooperate with the authorities, you will have to continue that cooperation without refusing or failing to provide information and assistance that has been requested in a reasonable way.**  The certification also confirms that you are a victim of one of the U visa-eligible crimes and that you have provided useful information to them.  For more information, see Which government officials and agencies may be able to provide the law enforcement certification that is required?

Note: If you are under 16 years old, your parent, guardian, or “next friend” who has information about the criminal activity can be the one that has been helpful, is being helpful, or is likely to be helpful to the authorities investigating or prosecuting the criminal activity for purposes of the certification.***

* INA § 101(a)(15)(U)(i)(III); 8 CFR § 214.14(c)(2)(i)
** See I-918 Supplement B
*** INA §§ 101(a)(15)(U)(i)(II) & (III)

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back to topHow much does it cost to apply for U visa status?

There are no fees for the application for you and your derivative family members.*  Some of the related forms do have fees (i.e., employment authorization for derivative family members, inadmissibility waiver, biometrics, etc.) but those fees can be waived.

* See USCIS website – Forms

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