What is a U visa? How can it help me?
Congress created U visa status in 2000 to help crime victims. The purpose of the U visa is to encourage victims of crime to help law enforcement investigate and prosecute crimes without the fear of being deported.1 The U visa doesn’t cover all crimes but it does include domestic violence, stalking, sexual assault, and felony assault, among other crimes.2
If you get a U visa, you will get a work permit (“Employment Authorization Document”)3 and the ability to apply for lawful permanent residence (a “green card”) after three years.4 After five years as a legal permanent resident, you can apply for citizenship (naturalization), assuming that you meet all of the other citizenship requirements.5
1New Classification for Victims of Criminal Activity; Eligibility for ‘‘U’’ Nonimmigrant Status, 72 Fed. Reg. 53014 (September 17, 2007)
2 INA § 101(a)(15)(U)(iii)
3 INA § 214(p)(3)(B)
4 INA § 245(m)
5 INA § 316
What crimes could qualify me for a U visa?
Victims of any of the following crimes could qualify for a U visa if the crime took place in the U.S.:
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; manslaughter; murder; felonious assault; witness tampering; obstruction of justice; perjury; fraud in foreign labor contracting; or attempt, conspiracy, or solicitation to commit any of the above-mentioned crimes.1
However, just because you were the victim of one of these crimes does not mean that you will automatically qualify. You have to meet the other requirements, which are explained in What are the requirements that I must meet to get a U visa?
Note: It is very hard to get a U visa without help from an attorney with experience in U visas. 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 routes to immigration status. Please see the national organizations listed on our National Organizations - Immigration 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 hope to work 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.
1 INA § 101(a)(15)(U)(iii)
What are the requirements that I must meet to get a U visa?
To get a U visa, you must do everything explained in #1 and #2 below:
- You must get a certification from law enforcement or another certifying agency that says all of the following:
- you are a victim of one of the U visa crimes;
- the crime took place in the U.S., including U.S. territories and possessions, or on a U.S. military base;
- you have information about that crime; and
- you were helpful, are being helpful, or are likely to be helpful in the criminal investigation or prosecution of that crime.1
- Also, you must show that:
- you suffered substantial physical or mental harm from the crime;2 and
- none of the grounds of inadmissibility applies to you. “Grounds of inadmissibility” are a long list of crimes and other acts that prevent people from getting status or entering the U.S. Note: If one of the grounds of inadmissibility applies to you, you must ask for a “waiver” in order to be able to qualify for a U visa. It is up to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) to decide whether you should get that waiver after weighing the pros and cons of your case.3
1 INA § 214(p)(1)
2 INA § 101(a)(15)(U)(i)(I)
3 INA § 212(d)(14)
After I apply for a U visa, when will I get a work permit and lawful permanent residence (a green card)?
It will take years for you to get a work permit after you apply for a U visa. If you ultimately get U visa status, you will immediately get a four-year work permit because the U visa lasts for four years.1 In rare cases, the U visa status can be extended beyond four years but only if additional time is necessary due to “exceptional circumstances” or if the certifying agency provides a new certification specifically stating that your presence in the U.S. is still required, beyond the four years, to assist in the investigation or prosecution of the crime.2 Here is an example of an “exceptional circumstance” that could qualify you to extend your U visa beyond four years: If your family members are outside of the U.S. when your U visa is approved, they will need to get permission from the U.S. embassy or consulate before coming to the U.S. This process (“consular processing”) can take a long time. If they cannot come to the U.S. before your U visa status expires, you may need to ask USCIS to extend your status because you must still have a valid U visa when your family members arrive.3
After three years in U visa status, you can apply for lawful permanent residence (your “green card”).
1 INA § 214(p)(3)(B)
2 INA § 214(p)(6)
3 See generally, AFM 39.1(g)(2)(A); USCIS PM-602-0032.2, “Extension of Status for T and U Nonimmigrants (Corrected and Reissued),” October 4, 2016
When I apply for a U visa, can my family members also get U visas? What about a work permit and lawful permanent residence?
If you are a crime victim applying for a U visa, you can also file for U visas for some of your close family members as “derivatives.” If you are over 21, you can include your spouse and unmarried children under 21. If you are under 21, you can include your spouse and unmarried children, as well as your parents and unmarried siblings under 18.1 To read about other possible immigration options for children, go to Aside from filing for my child as a derivative, what other immigration options may be available for my child?
If you filed for your U visa but then got married, you can still include your new spouse as a derivative. If your new spouse has children who were under 18 when you got married, you can include them as well.2
Your family members do not have to be victims of crime or have law enforcement certifications. They must show, however, that they are not prohibited (barred) from getting status due to the “grounds of inadmissibility,” which is a long list of crimes and other acts that prevent people from getting status or entering the U.S. Note: If one of these barriers does apply to your family members, they must ask for a “waiver.” It is up to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) to decide whether your family members should get that waiver after weighing the pros and cons of their case.
If USCIS approves your family members’ U visas and your family members are in the United States, they will receive U visa status for four years. They will also receive a work permit for four years, and they can apply for lawful permanent residence after three years. If your family members are outside of the United States when the government approves their U visas, they will need to get permission to enter the United States from a U.S. embassy or consulate. Once they enter the United States, they can apply for a four-year work permit. Three years after they enter, they can apply for lawful permanent residence.
Importantly, after you get your U visa, you will not want to apply for lawful permanent residence until all of the family members whom you want to include have gotten their U visas and arrived in the United States, if they were not already here. If you become a permanent resident before their U visas are approved or before they arrive, they will lose their ability to get U visas. If you are concerned that your U visa status may expire before all of your family members have arrived, you should talk to an attorney to see if you can extend your U visa status beyond the normal four years until your family gets to the U.S. on their own U visas and then you can apply for lawful permanent residence.
Note: Here you can see our series of vlogs (videos) in Spanish, with English subtitles, where we discuss what other people you can include on your U visa petition as derivative family members, among other topics.
1 INA § 101(a)(15)(U)(ii)
2USCIS Policy Manual, Vol. 3, Part C, Chp 2.B
Aside from filing for my child as a derivative, what other immigration options may be available for my child?
If you qualify for a U visa and you are thinking of applying for your child as a derivative, you may want to consult with an immigration lawyer first to see if there are any other immigration options for your child. Sometimes it makes sense for children to get status on their own instead of having their status based on your status. For example, some types of immigration cases are decided much faster than U visas, or your child could get a green card faster than s/he could through a U visa. Also, if your child has his/her own child, your child may be able to include your grandchild as a derivative in your child’s own application. Here are some options that can be available to children for you to discuss with a lawyer:
Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS)
Children who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned by one or both of their parents may be able to get Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), which would allow them to file for lawful permanent residence (a “green card”). It is important to understand that a child can be considered to be “abandoned” if one parent is absent even if the child has a good home with the non-absent parent. However, a child cannot file for status for either parent as part of this application. You can read more about the requirements for SIJS on the USCIS.gov website. Please talk to a lawyer who specializes in SIJS for help. There are special requirements for SIJS, including getting a decision from a state court judge, that are unique to SIJS.
Children who are/were abused by a parent who is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident may be able to file for their own VAWA self-petition. See our VAWA for Abuse Victims page for more information.