If you have been the victim of criminal activity, you may be left feeling alone and unsure of your options to gain safety and remain in the United States. The U-visa offers a range of immigration protections for the victims of crimes, including the ability to enroll in school, obtain a driver’s license, and open a bank account. Applying for and obtaining a U-visa requires that a person meets several requirements and properly submits the right paperwork, which can seem like an overwhelming process.
At Diaz Law Firm, we work tirelessly to help victims of crimes secure lawful immigration status and all the benefits that come with it. We understand how delicate these situations are, and we strive to provide compassionate legal advocacy to all. For more information about how we can help, consider speaking with an experienced Los Angeles U-visa lawyer today at (626) 261-0402.
What Are the Immigration Options for Someone Who Has Experienced Criminal Activity?
If you are afraid to report a crime out of fear that you will be removed from the United States, rest assured that U.S. immigration law provides protection for both legal and undocumented immigrants who have experienced criminal activity. Among these options are the:
- VAWA self-petition
Depending on the nature of the crimes and the severity of the violence that you have experienced, one of these options may help you gain safety and lawful immigration status in the United States.
What Is the U-visa?
The U-visa is a category of nonimmigrant visa designed for the victims of certain crimes. The overarching purpose of this visa is to encourage these victims to assist law enforcement in investigating and prosecuting criminal activity. U-visa holders are provided with temporary immigration status as well as lawful status for certain family members. This visa also provides holders with the ability to work in the United States and eventually apply for a Green Card. While this visa is reserved for the victims of crimes who have suffered major physical or mental abuse, not all types of violence are covered under the U-visa.
What Crimes Are Covered by the U-visa?
The U-visa provides legal protections for victims of the following types of criminal activity in the United States:
- Abduction, false imprisonment, and/or being held hostage
- Rape, sexual assault, and/or sexual exploitation
- Domestic violence
- Female genital mutilation
- Murder and/or manslaughter
- Obstruction of justice
- Fraud in foreign labor contracting
It is important to note that other crimes may qualify a person for a U-visa as long as the nature and elements of the criminal activity are highly similar to the ones listed above. Attempts to commit these crimes and/or soliciting a person to commit these crimes are also covered by this visa. An experienced Los Angeles U-visa lawyer can review your situation and help you understand whether the criminal activity you experienced is covered by the U-visa.
What Is the Difference Between a U-visa, T-visa, and VAWA Self-petition?
While the U-visa, T-visa, and VAWA self-petition all provide a safe haven for victims of crimes as they navigate legal proceedings and the U.S. immigration system, there are key differences between these three visas. Each visa provides protections for victims of certain crimes:
- U-visa: for victims of serious criminal activity
- T-visa: for victims of human trafficking
- VAWA self-petition: for victims of domestic violence who wish to apply for permanent residency independent of their abusive family member
Considering that there is a fair amount of overlap in the eligibility requirements of these three visas, it may be difficult to decide which option is right for you. The option that you ultimately choose depends on several key factors, including your immigration goals and your willingness to help law enforcement investigate and prosecute the crime(s).
What Are the U-visa Requirements?
To qualify for the U-visa, it is not necessary to have legal immigration status. Both legal and undocumented immigrants in the United States may apply for the U-visa, as long as the individual:
- Is or was the victim of a qualifying crime and experienced significant physical and/or mental abuse as a result of the criminal activity
- Has reliable, credible information about the crime(s)
- Is willing to help in the investigation and prosecution of the criminal activity
- Experienced a crime that occurred in the United States or that violates U.S. law
- Is considered admissible to the United States (If you committed a crime that makes you inadmissible to the U.S., it is possible to seek a waiver and still qualify for the U-visa. Waivers are granted at the discretion of the USCIS, and a Los Angeles U-visa lawyer can help navigate these concerns).
How Do You Apply for a U-visa?
To apply for a U-visa, you must file Form I-918, Petition for Nonimmigrant U Status, and obtain a law enforcement certification. This certification can be applied for using Form I-918B, which confirms that you are the victim of qualifying criminal activity and that you will be willing to help with the investigation and prosecution of the crime(s). The perpetrator of the crime does not need to have already been convicted of a crime at this point. If these forms are accepted, you will receive certification from a law enforcement official and will be granted protections under the U-visa.
Note that you must also include a personal statement with your application, which outlines the criminal activity that you experienced, as well as all necessary supporting documentation. Gathering evidence of the physical and/or mental harm that you experienced is key, and can come in many forms. Statements from therapists or counselors, medical records, legal records, or communications with social service systems may be helpful documentation to include with your application.
What Is the Processing Time for the U-visa?
Processing times for the U-visa vary from case to case. Generally, however, you can expect to wait over a year before obtaining your U-visa. Based on current estimates from the USCIS, the average wait time for the U-visa is 60 months. Ensuring that your petition is completed accurately and that all necessary supporting evidence is included in your application, is key to avoiding delays during the process.
Hiring a Los Angeles U-visa Lawyer Near You
If you were the victim of criminal activity that violates United States law, you may be eligible for certain immigration protections. The process of applying for and successfully obtaining these protections can be difficult, however, leading many people to seek assistance from experienced Los Angeles U-visa lawyers. At Diaz Law Firm, we provide compassionate legal advocacy to victims of criminal activity and work diligently to secure lawful immigration status through the U-visa. To speak with our team about your case, consider contacting our office at (626) 261-0402 today.