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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.

Eligibility

back to topWhat is the first step in applying for U visa status?

Your first step should be to get an attorney familiar with U visa status applications.  It is very important that you work with an attorney (or initially with an advocate) familiar with U visa status.  This is much safer than you applying on your own!  The forms and laws are confusing and it can be easy for anyone to make a mistake or leave something out that could result in USCIS denying your application. There are forms for you (and possibly some of your family members) and for a law enforcement officer to fill out – an attorney or advocate can make sure they are filled out correctly.  You will have to tell your own story in a document called a "declaration."  In addition, a declaration from a crime victim advocate about the harm you suffered may be very helpful.

Also, many applicants may have done something in their past (known as grounds of inadmissibility) that are barriers to getting lawful status. For the U visa, most of these may be waived (excused) if it's "in the national or public interest."  A lawyer can help to identify any inadmissibility grounds that apply to you and help you ask for a waiver so that you may obtain U visa status.  We encourage your lawyer and advocate to call a national organization that specializes in immigration training for professionals such as ASISTALet those immigration lawyers help your lawyer make sure that s/he has done everything correctly. 

To find help for yourself, please go to the International/Immigration section of our National Organizations page.  You can also find the contact information for general legal services organizations, not immigration-specific, and referral services to private attorneys here: Finding a Lawyer.

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back to topAm I eligible for U visa status? What crimes could qualify me?

Victims of certain crimes may qualify for U visa status.  These are the basic eligibility requirements - you must meet all of them:

  • You have suffered "substantial physical or mental abuse" as a result of being the victim of one (or more) of the following criminal activities (or similar activities) that violate federal, state, or local criminal law:
    • rape; torture; trafficking; incest; domestic violence; sexual assault; abusive sexual contact; prostitution; sexual exploitation; stalking; female genital mutilation; being held hostage; peonage; involuntary servitude; slave trade; kidnapping; abduction; unlawful criminal restraint; false imprisonment; blackmail; extortion; fraud in foreign labor contracting; manslaughter; murder; felonious assault; witness tampering; obstruction of justice; perjury; or attempt, conspiracy, or solicitation to commit any of the above-mentioned crimes;
  • You have information about the criminal activity (or if you are under 16 years old, that your parent, guardian, or “next friend” has information about the criminal activity);
  • You can provide a certification from a law enforcement authority 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 (or if you are under 16 years old, that your parent, guardian, or “next friend” has been helpful, is being helpful, or is likely to be helpful);
  • The criminal activity:
    • violated U.S. law; or
    • occurred in the U.S. (including Indian country and military installations) or the territories and possessions of the U.S.;* or
    • violated a U.S. federal law outside of the U.S. but the law allows for the criminal to be prosecuted in U.S. federal court;** and
  • You are not in violation of the immigration law's inadmissibility grounds or, if you are, that a waiver can be (and is) filed to ask that those violations be excused.***
* INA § 101(a)(15)(U)
** 8 CFR § 214.14(b)(4)
*** INA § 212(d)(14)

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back to topCan I apply for U visa status from another country?

Yes.  You are not required to be physically present in the U.S. to qualify for U visa status.*  However, the criminal activity you were a victim of must have:

  • violated U.S. law; or
  • occurred in the U.S. (including Indian country and military installations) or the territories and possessions of the U.S.;*1 or
  • violated a U.S. federal law but the law allows for the criminal to be prosecuted in U.S. federal court (known as "extraterritorial jurisdiction").*2
Practically, however, it may be more difficult to navigate the process from another country.  Regardless of where you are applying from, the U.S. or abroad, a special unit of the USCIS in Vermont will process your application.  If your U visa status application is approved while you are abroad (or if it was approved while you were in the U.S. and then you left the U.S.), you will need to apply for an actual U visa at a U.S. consulate or embassy to enter the U.S.*3  (Remember that the actual name for U visa status is U nonimmigrant status and getting this status doesn't initially  involve receiving an actual visa.)  See I have U visa status, but never received an actual visa. How do I get one? for more information on getting an actual visa.

Your attorney should consult with a national organization with expertise in U visas such as ASISTA on this process, since many consulates are still unfamiliar with the U visa and may give inaccurate information to those processing abroad.  Other national organizations can be found on our International/Immigration page.

* USCIS website – Questions & Answers: Victims of Criminal Activity, U visa status
*1 INA § 101(a)(15)(U)(i)(IV)
*2 8 CFR § 214.14(b)(4)
*3 Cable, DOS, 10-State-017736 (Feb. 2010)

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back to topIn the list of eligibility requirements, what does “substantial physical or mental abuse” mean?

One of the basic requirements to obtain U visa status is that you have suffered "substantial physical or mental abuse" as a result of certain crimes.*  “Physical or mental abuse” means injury or harm to your body, or harm to your emotional or psychological well-being.** 

In addition, whether the abuse you suffered is “substantial” depends on a number of factors, including but not limited to:

  • the nature of the injury you suffered;
  • the severity of the abuser’s conduct;
  • the severity of the harm you suffered;
  • for how long you suffered the harm; and
  • the extent to which there is permanent or serious harm to your appearance, health, or physical or mental health, including if a pre-existing condition was made worse.
No single factor is required to show that the harm you suffered was substantial.  Also, a series of acts taken together may be considered substantial physical or mental abuse, even when each act by itself would not be considered substantial.***  Your statement (declaration) will be key in showing this requirement and, if the harm is not physical, a statement from a victim advocate can be very helpful.  (If you are a victim advocate, please contact our Email Hotline for more information on how to best prepare such a statement.) 

* INA § 101(a)(15)(U)(i)(I)
** 8 CFR § 214.14(a)(8)
*** 8 CFR § 214.14(b)(1)

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back to topWho can be considered a “victim of crime” to be eligible for U visa status?

One of the basic requirements to obtain U visa status is that you are the “victim” of certain crimes.*  This definition includes what is known as “direct victims” and “indirect victims.”*1

Direct victims are people who have suffered direct and proximate (immediate) harm as a result of a crime.*2 

Indirect victims
include certain relatives of direct victims when the direct victim is:

  • dead due to murder or manslaughter; or
  • incompetent or incapacitated and cannot provide information about the crime or be helpful in the investigation or prosecution of the crime.
If your U.S. citizen child is the victim, and you are undocumented, you may be able to apply for a U visa as an indirect victim.  For more information, see If my U.S. citizen child is a victim of a crime, can I (the undocumented parent) qualify for a U visa?

The relatives that may qualify as "indirect victims" include:
  • the direct victim’s spouse; and
  • the direct victim’s unmarried children under 21 years old. 
  • If the direct victim is under 21 years old, his/her parents and minor siblings (under 18 years old) may also be considered indirect victims. 
Note: When determining possible indirect victims, USCIS will look at the age of the victim at the time the crime was committed.*3

Please note that no matter if you are applying as a direct victim or as an indirect victim, you will be considered a “principal applicant,” and not a “derivative.”  A “principal applicant” is a person who applies for an immigration benefit and from whom another person (usually a family member) may also receive lawful status as a “derivative” under immigration law.*4  Note: Do not confuse derivatives (who do not have to meet all U visa status eligibility requirements but must show they are admissible) with indirect victims who do have to meet all U visa status eligibility requirements.  As principal applicants, both direct and indirect victims will have to prove they meet the eligibility requirements for U visa status.

* INA § 101(a)(15)(U)(i)(I)
*1 8 CFR §§ 214.14(a) & (a)(i)
*2 8 CFR § 214.14(a)
*3 8 CFR § 214.14(a)(i)
*4 USCIS website – Glossary

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back to topI am under 16 year old. What does it mean that a “next friend” can help me?

If you are under 16 years old, incapacitated, or incompetent, a “next friend” is generally someone who appears in a lawsuit to act on your behalf but the next friend does not actually apply for U visa status.  In the case of applying for U visa status, a next friend would primarily stand in for you in working with law enforcement.  You would still have to show you suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of being a victim of a crime.* The next friend is not a party in the proceedings and is not appointed as a guardian for immigration purposes, though s/he may be an appointed guardian helping you in other matters.**  Next friends can be used to supply information on behalf of children who are applying, but can't supply all of the information or helpfulness themselves.

* INA §§ 101(a)(15)(U)(i)(II) & (III)
** 8 CFR § 214.14(a)(7)

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back to topIf my U.S. citizen child is a victim of a crime, can I (the undocumented parent) qualify for a U visa?

Possibly, yes.  If your U.S. citizen child was the victim of one of the qualifying crimes, explained here, you as the undocumented parent may be able to apply as in indirect victim.  In general, when the crime victim is a child (under 21 years old), his/her parents and minor siblings (under 18 years old) may be considered indirect victims.  When determining possible indirect victims, USCIS will look at the age of the victim at the time the crime was committed.*  For the definition of an indirect victim, go to Who can be considered a "victim of crime" to be eligible for U visa status?

Note: If you (the undocumented parent) are applying as the indirect victim of the crime, this means that you (the parent) are the one listed as the indirect victim of the crime against your child on the law enforcement certification.

If you are applying as an indirect victim, you will be considered a “principal applicant,” and not a “derivative.”  A “principal applicant” is a person who applies for an immigration benefit and from whom another person (usually a family member) may also receive lawful status as a “derivative” under immigration law.**  Note: Do not confuse derivatives (who do not have to meet all U visa status eligibility requirements but must show they are admissible) with indirect victims who do have to meet all U visa status eligibility requirements.  As principal applicants, indirect victims will have to prove they meet the eligibility requirements for U visa status.

* 8 CFR § 214.14(a)(i)
** USCIS website – Glossary

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back to topI think I may be eligible. Should I go to my local USCIS (Immigration) office?

No.  Local USCIS offices do not process U visa status applications, nor does ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).  Like VAWA, all U visa applications are processed by a specially trained unit in Vermont.  There are no interviews; everything is done by filing papers. Going to USCIS or ICE in person without an attorney with you may result in your removal (deportation).  Most local offices and ICE have not been trained on U visas and may not give accurate advice.  Moreover, if you have any existing immigration issues, going to them may result in your deportation, not help you in applying for status.

In all cases, you should consult with an immigration expert with experience in U visas.
  S/he can help you figure out if you are likely to qualify for this or any other form of immigration relief, and if there is a risk of being put in removal proceedings (being deported).  To find help, please go to the International/Immigration page in our National Organizations section.  You can also find the contact information for general legal services organizations, not immigration-specific, and referral services to private attorneys here: Finding a Lawyer.

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back to topWhich government officials and agencies may be able to provide the law enforcement certification that is required?

As explained throughout this section, one requirement for getting U visa status is that you must 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.  The following officials and agencies may be able to provide the U visa status certification:

  • federal, state, or local law enforcement agencies;
  • prosecutors;
  • judges; or
  • other authorities that are responsible for the investigation or prosecution of criminal activity.  This includes agencies that have criminal investigative authority in their respective areas of expertise, such as Child Protective Services, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the National Labor Relations Board, and the U.S. Department of Labor.*
* 8 CFR § 214.14(a)(2)

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back to topCan I apply for U visa status if I am in removal proceedings (deportation)?

Yes.  If you are in removal, exclusion, or deportation proceedings, or if you are the subject of a final order of removal, deportation, or exclusion, you may still apply for U visa status.*  ICE and CIS have set up a special system for expediting (speeding up) these cases if you are detained or likely to be removed swiftly.  Please contact an immigration attorney with experience in U visas to determine the procedures you would have to follow to apply for U visa status in your case.  They should work with the national organizations with U visa expertise to ensure your case is considered and resolved quickly by Immigration - one such organization is ASISTA, which offers immigration training for professionals.  Other national organizations can be found on our International/Immigration page.

* 8 CFR § 214.14(c)(1)(i),(ii)

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