JESSE J. BAÑUELOS, A LOS ANGELES IMMIGRATION ATTORNEY
U VISAS FOR VICTIMS OF CERTAIN CRIMES
The U visa program was established for undocumented aliens who have suffered physical or mental/emotional abuse, or injury as a result of the criminal acts of others, and who are collaborating, have collaborated, or are willing to collaborate with governmental authorities in the investigation or prosecution of the crime against the parties who were responsible for those crimes. Many undocumented aliens who are the victims of crimes, out of fear of deportation, prefer to remain silent. The purpose of the U visa program is to motivate those victims to report those crimes to the appropriate authorities.
REQUIREMENTS OF A U VISA
1. The applicant must have suffered physical or mental/emotional abuse, or injury as a result of certain kind of criminal activity, such as assault, rape, torture, human trafficking, incest, domestic violence, sexual assault, kidnapping, blackmail, murder, slave trade, involuntary servitude, felonious assault, etc., at the hands of another person;
2. The date of the incident doesn’t matter; it doesn’t matter whether it occurred today, or 10, 20 years ago;
3. The injury does not have to be physical. For example, the emotional trauma that someone suffers when someone is threatened with harm or death by another who is wielding a gun, a knife, or some other potentially deadly weapon, etc., would be considered sufficient injury;
4. The crime must have violated the laws of the U.S. and/or the laws of a state in the U.S., and must have occurred in the US;
5. The applicant–or in the case of an applicant child under 16, the child’s parent or guardian–has been helpful; is being helpful; and is willing to be helpful with law enforcement authorities in their criminal investigation or prosecution of the criminal activity that caused the applicant’s injury;
6. The local police, or some other government agency in the U.S., such as a district attorney’s office, the FBI, a county’s department of social services, etc., prepared a report regarding the incident;
7. It’s not necessary for the perpetrator of the crime to be convicted of a crime. In fact, he doesn’t even have to be arrested. If the victim meets all the other requirements, it is possible for a crime victim to be eligible for a U visa, even if the perpetrator is never found or identified; and
8. Neither the applicant nor his/her qualifying relatives need to be living in the U.S. when he/she/they applies/apply for a U visa.
BENEFITS OF A U VISA
1. A work permit once the U visa petition is approved;
2. Protection from deportation/removal while the petition for a U visa is pending, even if the applicant is in deportation/removal proceedings, or has a deportation/removal order pending against him;
3. Waivers of an applicant’s violations of immigration laws, such as immigration fraud, unlawful presence in the US, deportations, many types of criminal convictions, whether they are felonies or misdemeanors, etc., that the INS/USCIS would usually not forgive under any other program; and
4. If after his application is approved, the applicant maintains continuous residence in the U.S. for at least three years, he will be eligible to apply for a green card.
WHO IS ELIGIBLE TO APPLY FOR A U VISA?
1. The principal applicant (the victim of the crime);
2. The principal applicant’s spouse. [NOTE: THERE HAS BEEN A RECENT CHANGE IN THE LAW WITH RESPECT TO THE SPOUSES OF U VISA APPLICANTS. The change is the following: the spouse of a principal U visa applicant can apply for a U visa even if: a) that spouse was not married to the principal applicant when that applicant filed his/her U visa application, and that application is still pending; or b) the principal applicant’s U visa application has already been approved];
3. The principal applicant’s children who are unmarried and under 21;
4. Victims who are under the age of 21 may also request U-visas for their parents and their unmarried minor siblings (under age 18). A sibling’s age is determined as of the date when the sibling’s U-visa application is filed;
5. Indirect victims of criminal activity. Certain family members of the primary victim can apply for U visas as indirect victims if the primary victim dies due to murder, manslaughter, or was rendered incompetent or incapacitated as a result of the criminal act of another person, and, therefore, cannot help the authorities with the investigation of that crime. Indirect victims still need to establish that they meet the other eligibility requirements for U-visa status; that they have been helpful, are being helpful, or will be helpful in the investigation of the crime; they suffered substantial harm as a result of the crime. USCIS considers the age of the victim at the time of the crime to determine who is eligible as an indirect victim. For crime victims who are age 21 or older, their spouse, as well as their children under 21 years of age, may be considered indirect victims. For victims under age 21, their parents and unmarried siblings under 18 can be considered indirect victims; and
6. Bystanders. Under limited circumstances bystanders may qualify as U-visa victims. When a bystander has suffered an unusually direct injury as the result of a qualifying crime (for example, suffering a miscarriage after witnessing a criminal activity), the bystander may be eligible for a U-visa.
TO DO IT RIGHT, IT IS BEST TO APPLY FOR A U VISA WITH THE HELP OF AN ATTORNEY
The process of applying for a U visa is very complicated. For these reasons, if you are a victim of a crime, and you wish to apply for this benefit, you will need the help of an experienced immigration attorney, such as Mr. Bañuelos. Because he is hardworking and tenacious, Mr. Bañuelos has been successfully resolving difficult immigration problems, and has been winning difficult deportation and removal cases for over 20 years.