What 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 ASISTA. Let those immigration lawyers help your lawyer make sure that s/he has done everything correctly.
To find help for yourself, please go to the 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.