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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 have assisted, are assisting, or are willing to assist the authorities in investigating or prosecuting crimes that were committed against them.*1 The main purpose of the U visa is to encourage undocumented crime victims to help law enforcement investigate and prosecute crimes without fear of being deported.

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

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 advocate or your attorney will have to get law enforcement or the proper certifying agency to fill out a U visa status certification.  This certification is a form 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 definition of a "reasonable request" depends on the circumstances of each case and on factors such as the age of the victim, the trauma s/he suffered and if the victim's cooperation puts his/her security at risk.  The certification also confirms that you are a victim of one of the U visa-eligible crimes and that you have provided useful information when requested.**  For more information on who can sign a certification, 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 the certification form, 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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back to topHow long does it take to get the U visa? What legal status do I have while I am waiting for my U visa?

From the day that you apply for a U visa until you actually have the U visa in your hand, it could take up to 5 years or more.  This long delay is for two reasons.  First, there is a processing delay for U visas and so the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) won't even look at your application for a few years.  As of November 2016, USCIS is currently reviewing applications that were filed in June of 2014, which means that there is a nearly 2½ year wait before USCIS is even looking at the applications that are filed.*  The second reason for the delay is that USCIS can only grant 10,000 U visas per year, which is commonly known as the "U visa cap."  Once USCIS grants the 10,000 applications, they cannot issue any additional U visas for the rest of the calendar year.*1  However, USCIS does continue to work on U visa applications that have been filed.  If an applicant would be eligible to receive a U visa (but can't get one since the cap has been met), USCIS places that "approvable application" on a waitlist until it is his/her turn to be issued a U visa.*2  

While your approvable application is on the waitlist, USCIS puts you in "deferred action" status.  Deferred action is not actually a legal status but it means that USCIS knows that you are in the country and you are eligible to apply for a work permit, which lasts for two years but can be renewed.*2 

Applicants can expect to remain on the U visa waitlist for three years or more until a visa is available.*3  Once you get your U visa (if it is ultimately approved), you will get a four-year work permit since the U visa duration is a four year period.*4  After you have had your U visa for three years, you can apply for lawful permanent residence (your "green card") if you meet certain requirements.

* Information from ASISTA
*1 8 C.F.R. § 214.14(d)(1); see also USCIS website
*2 See 8 C.F.R. § 214.14(d)(2)
*3 Time approximation on waitlist is accurate as of 11/2016 as per ASISTA
*4 INA § 214(p)(3)(B)

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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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U visas and domestic violence

back to topCan I get U visa status even if the abuser is undocumented? What if we are not married?

Yes.  The immigration status of the abuser does not matter for U visa status (unlike protections offered under VAWA).  The abuser can be undocumented, or s/he can be a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident.  Also, unlike VAWA, you do not have to be married to the abuser to be eligible for U visa status.*  If you were abused by an intimate partner, the only thing that matters is that you meet the qualifications for getting U visa status as explained in the Eligibility section.

* INA § 101(a)(15)(U)

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back to topIf I have been the victim of domestic violence, do I apply for VAWA or for a U visa?

It depends.  You may be eligible for both and then it's up to you and your attorney which one you want to pursue (or both).  You may be eligible to obtain lawful status through a VAWA self-petition if:

  • Your spouse is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident and has abused you;
  • Your spouse is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident and has abused your child;
  • You are a child (under 21 years old and unmarried) of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident who has abused you; OR
  • You are the parent of a U.S. citizen who has abused you.*
(Victims of domestic violence who are not married to the abuser, or who have been abused by a spouse who is not a U.S. citizen nor a lawful permanent resident, are not eligible to self-petition under VAWA.  For more information on eligibility requirements for VAWA, see VAWA self-petition.)

You may also be able to file for U visa status if you have been, are being, or will be helpful to law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of a crime, including domestic violence, and meet all other requirements regardless of the immigration status of the abuser.**

You should discuss your options with an immigration lawyer with experience in VAWA and U visas before you file papers with USCIS to determine what would be the best option in your case.  To find help, please go the International/Immigration page of the National Organizations section.  If your lawyer needs assistance, s/he can call ASISTA for help.
 
* INA § 204(a)(1)(A) & (B)
** INA § 101(a)(15)(U)

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back to topI got U visa status based on a crime committed against me by my spouse but now we have gotten back together. Can I apply for the abuser (my spouse) to get status as a derivative?

No.  The person who has committed the crime for which you are applying for U visa status will not qualify for U visa status.*

* 8 CFR § 214.14(a)(iii)

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Benefits of U visa status

back to topHow long does U visa status last?

If your U visa status application is approved, you will be able to be in the U.S. lawfully with your U visa status for up to four years.*  After three years with U visa status in the U.S., you will be eligible to apply for lawful permanent residence (commonly called a “green card”) if you meet all of the necessary requirements.**

The four years of U visa status may be extended if the law enforcement agency that fills out the certification confirms that your presence in the U.S. is required to assist in the investigation or prosecution of the criminal activity.  The four years may also be extended if the additional time is necessary due to exceptional circumstances.***

* INA § 214(o)(7)(A)
** INA § 245(m)
*** INA § 214(o)(7)(B)

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back to topCan I get lawful permanent residence (a green card) if my U visa status application is approved?

If your U visa status application has been approved, you may be eligible to become a lawful permanent resident later on.*  If you apply for lawful permanent residence, you may receive it if you meet all of the following requirements:

  • You have been physically present in the U.S. for a continuous period of at least 3 years since the date you were admitted under U visa status;
    • The continuous physical presence is broken if you are outside of the U.S. for 90 days in a row or 180 days in total, unless:
      • the absence was necessary to assist in the investigation or prosecution of the crime; or
      • if the law enforcement official investigating or prosecuting the crime certifies that the absence was justified;
  • You were lawfully admitted to the U.S. as a principal or derivative with U visa status;
  • You continue to have U visa status at the time you apply for lawful permanent residence (the U visa status has never been revoked);
  • You are not inadmissible due to your participation in Nazi persecution, genocide, or as someone who committed an act of torture or an extrajudicial killing;
  • After receiving U visa status, you have not unreasonably refused to provide assistance to an official or law enforcement agency investigating or prosecuting the person(s) who committed the crime that made you eligible for U visa status; and
  • Your continued presence in the U.S. is justified on humanitarian grounds, to ensure family unity, or it is in the “public interest.”**
* INA § 245(m)
** INA § 245(m)(1),(2); 8 CFR § 245.24(b),(c)

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back to topCan I get a work permit if my U visa status application is approved?

Yes.  When you apply for a U visa as a principal applicant or as a derivative family member, you can get a four-year work permit once your U visa has been granted.*  However, you can get a work permit even before you get your U visa once your application is considered “approvable” and you are placed on the U visa waitlist (based on deferred action) – this usually takes about 2 ½ years to from the time you apply until you may be put on the waitlist.**  During that approximately 2 ½ year wait, you will not have a work permit. 

Note: If you are a principal applicant or a derivative applicant and you applied from abroad, you will be eligible to apply for a work permit only after you enter the U.S. once your U visa is granted.***

* INA § 214(p)(3)(B)
** Time approximation to get on waitlist is accurate as of 11/2016 as per ASISTA
** 8 CFR § 214.14(c)(7), (f)(7)

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Traveling outside of the U.S.

back to topCan I travel outside of the U.S. if my U visa status application is approved?

It depends.  It is extremely important that you talk to an immigration lawyer with experience in U visa status before traveling to determine if you can travel outside of the U.S.  Here we discuss some major concerns with traveling:

First, if you were granted U visa status in the U.S., you will have to go to a consulate to get an actual U visa to re-enter the U.S.  You are not automatically granted this visa (needed for traveling) when you are approved for U visa status. (Remember, U visa status is technically called U nonimmigrant status and do you do not automatically get an actual visa when you are granted this status.)  See I have U visa status, but never received an actual visa. How do I get one? for more information.

Second, be aware that being outside of the U.S. for more than 90 days at one time or more than 180 days in combined trips may prevent you from getting lawful permanent residence.  This is the “continuous physical presence” requirement for U lawful permanent residence.*

Third, if you leave the U.S. and then return, you may trigger new grounds of inadmissibility that you did not get waived when you applied for U visa status (most likely, it would be the "unlawful presence" ground which is only triggered when you leave the U.S.).**  Immigration will, however, quickly consider and grant a new waiver for you, so you should ensure your lawyer has set this up before you leave the U.S.  If your attorney does not know about this protocol, s/he should contact a national organization that works on U visas such as ASISTA for help working with Immigration to get the new waivers quickly.

Fourth, if you already have U visa status, and you submitted an application to obtain lawful permanent residence that is still pending, then you will need to request “advance parole” before leaving the U.S.***  Advance parole will allow you to preserve your application for lawful permanent residence when you leave the country.****  If you do not request advance parole before leaving the U.S., your application for lawful permanent residence will be considered abandoned and it will be denied.***

Finally, if you come into the U.S. with a different kind of visa after being granted U visa status or if you come in without permission, your U visa status may be revoked.  This may happen because the consulates are not sufficiently trained on U visas and may delay giving you a U visa or may give you bad advice and information.

For all these reasons, it is extremely important that you talk to an immigration lawyer with experience in U visa status before traveling to determine if you can safely travel outside of the U.S.  An immigration attorney with experience in U visa status should be able to determine if any of these risks apply to you by working with the national organizations with expertise in U visas such as ASISTA.  To find the contact information of organizations working in the area of immigration law, please see the national organizations listed on our Immigration/International page.

* 8 CFR § 245.24(a)(1)
** INA § 212(a)(9)(B) & (C)
*** 8 CFR § 245.24(j)
**** See generally USCIS website – Glossary

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back to topI have U visa status, but never received an actual visa. How do I get one?

If you are approved for U visa status, you will not actually receive a visa (a document that allows a person to enter the U.S.) until you travel and re-enter the United States.  Visas are issued at U.S. consulates and embassies outside of the U.S.*  Instead, when you are approved for U visa status, you will receive work authorization (often called a “work permit”) and another immigration document that shows your status. You may never need an actual visa unless you plan to leave the U.S.

Whether or not you have already been approved for U status, you should consult with your U visa immigration attorney before traveling and to find out what steps to take to get a visa.  To find the contact information of organizations working in the area of immigration law, please see the national organizations listed on our Immigration/International page.   Also, please read about all of the important concerns with traveling in Can I travel outside of the U.S. if my U visa status application is approved?

Note: If you already have U visa status, and if you submitted an application to obtain lawful permanent residence that is still pending, then you will need to request “advance parole” before leaving the U.S.**  Advance parole will allow you to preserve your application for lawful permanent residence when you leave the country.***  If you do not request advance parole before leaving the U.S., your application for lawful permanent residence will be considered abandoned and it will be denied.**

* USCIS website – Glossary; see generally Cable, DOS, 10-State-017736 (Feb. 2010)
** 8 CFR § 245.24(j)
*** See generally USCIS website – Glossary

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U visa status for family members

back to topHow can my family member(s) benefit from my U visa status?

If you are eligible for U visa status, there are a number of ways in which your family members may also be able to obtain lawful status for themselves:

  • They may be able to receive U visa status as derivatives by proving they meet a specific relationship requirement with you.*  To read more about this, please see What family members may be considered derivatives?
  • They may be eligible to obtain U visa status if they are considered indirect victims of the crime, by proving they meet the U visa status eligibility requirements.**  To read more about this, please see Who can be considered a “victim of crime” to be eligible for U visa status?; or
  • Later on, once you apply for lawful permanent residence status, your family member(s) may be eligible to obtain lawful permanent residence (not U visa status) if they are considered to be "qualifying family members."  A qualifying family member is someone who:
    • was never a derivative; (if your family member was included in your U visa application as a derivative, s/he would file his/her own petition for lawful permanent residence - you don’t apply for lawful permanent residence status for that person);
    • can prove a specific relationship requirement with you at the time you are applying for lawful permanent residence; and
    • can show that receiving lawful permanent status is necessary to avoid extreme hardship.***  To read more about this, please see What family members may be considered "qualifying family members?"
* INA § 101(a)(15)(U)(ii)
** 8 CFR § 214.14(a)(i)
*** 8 CFR § 245.24(g)

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back to topWhat family members may be considered derivatives?

If you are granted U visa status as a principal applicant (U-1), some of your family members may also qualify for U visa status as derivatives.*  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.*1  As a principal applicant, you can file a petition on behalf of your derivative family members at the time you apply for U visa status or later.*2

If you are 21 years or older, then the following family members may qualify for U visa status as derivatives:

  • Spouse (U-2); and/or
  • Unmarried children under 21 (U-3).*
If you are under 21 years old, then the following family members may qualify for U visa status as derivatives:
  • Spouse (U-2);
  • Unmarried children under 21 (U-3);
  • Parents (U-4); and/or
  • Unmarried siblings under 18 (U-5).*
Note: The ages of the principal applicant and the derivative family members are determined at the time you (as the principal applicant) file the U visa status application.*3

As a principal applicant, you will have to prove that your family members meet one of the particular family relationship requirements described above and that they are not inadmissible or that they qualify for a waiver (exception).  They do not need to prove that they meet the other eligibility requirements that principal applicants need to prove.*4

Please note that if your family member was the person who committed the crime against you, then s/he will not be eligible to obtain U visa status as a derivative.*4

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

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back to topWhen I apply for lawful permanent resident status, what family members may be considered “qualifying family members” to also become lawful permanent residents?

If you have U visa status as a principal applicant, and have submitted an application to become a lawful permanent resident (after at least 3 years of U visa status), you may be eligible to ask that your “qualifying family members” receive lawful permanent residence as well.*  Qualifying family members include your spouse, child, and parent (if you are a child) who were never derivatives, and all of the following requirements must be met:

  • You have U visa status as a principal applicant (U-1);
  • Your application for lawful permanent residence was approved, is still pending, or is filed at the same time as the application for your qualifying family member;
  • Your qualifying family member never received U visa status as a derivative;
  • The relationship with your qualifying family member existed when you received lawful permanent residence and it continues to exist at the time your qualifying family member receives lawful permanent residence; and
  • You or your qualifying family member would suffer extreme hardship (see below) if your qualifying family member is not allowed to stay in, or enter, the U.S.**
Extreme hardship is evaluated on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the particular facts and circumstances of each case.  Some factors that may be considered include, but are not limited to:
  • The type and degree of the physical or mental abuse suffered as a result of being a victim of crime;
  • The effect of losing access to the U.S. courts and criminal justice system;
  • The probability that the criminal's family, friends, or others acting on behalf of the criminal in the home country would harm the applicant or the applicant's children;
  • The need for social, medical, mental health, or other supportive services for victims of crime that are not available or accessible in the home country;
  • In domestic violence cases, whether there are laws and social practices in the home country that punish the applicant or the applicant's children because they have been victims of domestic violence or have taken steps to leave an abusive home;
  • The criminal's ability to travel to the home country and the ability and willingness of authorities in the home country to protect the applicant or the applicant's children;
  • The applicant’s age, both at the time of entry into the U.S. and at the time the applicant applies for lawful permanent residence; and
  • Evidence, including a signed statement from the qualifying family member and other supporting documentation that explains that discretion should be exercised in his/her favor.***
* INA § 245(m)(3)
** INA § 245(m)(3), 8 CFR § 245.24(g)
*** 8 CFR § 245.24(h)(1)

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