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NPZ Immigration Law Blog

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

U Visas for Victims of Crime (Part 1)

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has approved the statutory maximum 10,000 petitions for U nonimmigrant status (U visas) for fiscal year 2013. This marks the fourth straight year that USCIS has reached the statutory maximum since it began issuing U visas in 2008. Each year, 10,000 U visas are available for victims of crime who have suffered substantial mental or physical abuse and are willing to help law enforcement authorities investigate or prosecute those crimes. A U-visa petition requires certification of assistance from law enforcement.

The U-visa program was created by Congress to strengthen the law enforcement community's ability to investigate and prosecute cases of domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, and other crimes while also offering protection to victims. More than 76,000 victims and their family members have received U visas since the program was implemented.

USCIS will continue to accept U-visa petitions and process them in the order in which they are received. USCIS will resume issuing U visas on Oct. 1, 2013, the first day of fiscal year 2014 and is when visas will be available again.

The U nonimmigrant status (U visa) is set aside for victims of crimes who have suffered substantial mental or physical abuse and are willing to assist law enforcement and government officials in the investigation or prosecution of the criminal activity. Below are Questions and Answers pertaining to U nonimmigrant visas.

Background
Congress created the U nonimmigrant visa with the passage of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (including the Battered Immigrant Women's Protection Act) in October 2000. The legislation was intended to strengthen the ability of law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute cases of domestic violence, sexual assault, trafficking of aliens and other crimes while, at the same time, offer protection to victims of such crimes. The legislation also helps law enforcement agencies to better serve victims of crimes.

Q: How Does One Become Eligible for U Nonimmigrant Status?
A: There are four statutory eligibility requirements. The individual must:

  • The individual must have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of having been a victim of a qualifying criminal activity.
  • The individual must have information concerning that criminal activity.
  • The individual must have been helpful, is being helpful, or is likely to be helpful in the investigation or prosecution of the crime.
  • The criminal activity violated U.S. laws

Q: What Qualifies as "Criminal Activity"?

A: Qualifying criminal activity is defined as being an activity involving one or more activities that violate U.S. criminal law, including

  • Abduction
  • Abusive Sexual Contact
  • Blackmail
  • Domestic Violence
  • Extortion
  • False Imprisonment
  • Genital Female Mutilation
  • Felonious Assault
  • Hostage
  • Incest
  • Involuntary Servitude
  • Kidnapping Manslaughter
  • Murder
  • Obstruction of Justice
  • Peonage
  • Perjury
  • Prostitution
  • Rape
  • Sexual Assault
  • Sexual Exploitation
  • Slave Trader
  • Torture
  • Trafficking
  • Witness Tampering
  • Unlawful Criminal Restraint
  • Other Related Crimes

Q: What are the Procedures to Request U Nonimmigrant Status?

A: Foreign national victims of crime must file a, Form I-918, Petition for U Nonimmigrant Status. The form requests information regarding the petitioner's eligibility for such status, as well as admissibility to the United States. Currently, USCIS has designated its Vermont Service Center as the centralized location to receive all U nonimmigrant petitions.

Q: Is There a Fee for Applying for U Nonimmigrant Status?
A: No. The program involves the well being of petitioners and USCIS' decision to waive the petition fee reflects the humanitarian purposes of the law.

Petitioners for a U nonimmigrant status are entitled to request a fee waiver of any form associated with the filing for the U nonimmigrant status.

If you are unable to pay the filing fee, you may submit a Request for Fee Waiver, Form I-912 (or a written request). For more information about fee waiver guidance, click here.

Q: What Prevents Any Foreign National From Claiming This Status By Saying They Were a Victim of a Crime?
A: A petition for U nonimmigrant status must also contain a certification of helpfulness from a certifying agency. That means the victim must provide a U Nonimmigrant Status Certification (Form I-918, Supplement B), from a U.S. law enforcement agency that demonstrates the petitioner "has been helpful, is being helpful, or is likely to be helpful" in the investigation or prosecution of the criminal activity.

Q: What Qualifies as a "Certifying Agency"?
A: Certifying agencies can be Federal, State or local law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, judges or other authority that investigates or prosecutes criminal activity.

Other agencies such as child protective services, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the Department of Labor also qualify as certifying agencies since they have criminal investigative jurisdiction within their respective areas of expertise.

Q: How Long Can One Maintain the U Nonimmigrant Classification?
A: U nonimmigrant status cannot exceed four years. However, extensions are available upon certification by a certifying agency that the foreign national's presence in the United States is required to assist in the investigation or prosecution of the qualifying criminal activity.

Q: Can a Foreign National Petition for U Nonimmigrant Status From Outside the United States?
A: Yes. USCIS has determined that the legal framework for U nonimmigrant status permits foreign national victims of criminal activity to petition for such status either inside or outside the United States.

If not admissible to enter the United States as a foreign national, an applicant for a U visa must obtain a waiver of inadmissibility through submission of a Form I-192, Application for Advance Permission to Enter as a Non-Immigrant. This waiver is adjudicated by the Vermont Service Center of USCIS on a discretionary basis, allowing the petitioner to continue with the U nonimmigrant visa process.

Q: Is There a Cap on The Number of U Nonimmigrant Status Grants?
A: Yes. USCIS may grant no more than 10,000 U-1 nonimmigrant visas in any given fiscal year (October 1 through September 30). This does not apply to derivative family members such as spouses, children or other qualifying family members who are accompanying or following to join the principal foreign national victim.

If the cap is reached in any fiscal year before all petitions are adjudicated, USCIS will create a waiting list that will provide a mechanism by which victims cooperating with law enforcement agencies can stabilize their immigration status. Further, U nonimmigrant visa petitioners assigned to the waiting list will be given deferred action or parole while they are on the waiting list. This means they will be eligible to apply for employment authorization or travel until their petitions can be adjudicated after the start of the following fiscal year.

To be continued...


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