As a nonimmigrant permit, a US U visa allows victims of certain criminal activities to stay in this country and cooperate with law enforcement to identify perpetrators. In October 2000, the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act was enacted by the US congress to help the investigation of some crimes such as domestic violence and sexual assault and to protect victims of these crimes.
Obtaining this visa has several conditions, including that the crime must have occurred in the US, and the victim must have suffered severe physical and psychological harm due to the crime.
What is a US U visa?
This visa is a type of non-immigrant visa and is for people who have been victims of criminal activity and have been physically and mentally abused. The issuance of this visa helps to support the victims of crime and provides information about the occurrence of crime. Therefore, A U visa holder can live legally and temporarily in the United States, and they also provide valuable information about the crime to the police.
What are the requirements for this visa?
To be eligible for a US U visa, the crime must have taken place on American soil. In addition, victims should:
- Have suffered severe mental or physical injury as a result of the crime
- Be willing to work with the US government to find clues about the perpetrators.
- Be the victim of the qualifying crimes.
- Have information that they can share with legal authorities. If the victim is under 16, his or her guardian or family members can provide this information.
- Be a permissible nonimmigrant in the United States. Otherwise, Form I-192, Application for Advance Permission to Enter as a Nonimmigrant, must be filed. If the USCIS approves your petition, the inadmissibility can be ignored.
- The crime must occur in the United States or violate US law.
The list of eligible criminal activities is:
|Abduction||Abusive Sexual Contact||Blackmail||Domestic Violence||Extortion|
|False Imprisonment||Female Genital Mutilation||Felonious Assault||Fraud in Foreign Labor Contracting||Hostage|
|Obstruction of Justice||Peonage||Perjury||Prostitution||Rape|
|Sexual Assault||Sexual Exploitation||Slave Trade||Stalking||Torture|
|Trafficking||Witness Tampering||Unlawful Criminal Restraint||Other Related Crimes|
U visa holders can stay in the United States as long as their visa is valid. They also have the following benefits:
- Opening a bank account
- Getting a driver’s license
- Enrollment in academic and technical courses
Note that U visa holders can obtain their Employment Authorization Document without filing Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization. In this way, they can start working part-time or full-time in legal jobs.
How to apply for a U visa?
You must first submit the following forms and documents to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS):
- Form I-918
- Form I-918, Supplement B, which must be signed by the authorized officials. Confirmation of this form indicates that you have been effective and helpful in the investigation process.
- In case of any inadmissibility, Form I-192, Application for Advance Permission to Enter as Nonimmigrant, must be submitted for waiver of the inadmissibility.
- You must provide a statement explaining the criminal activity in which you were the victim.
- You must provide medical evidence that you have suffered severe physical or psychological harm as a result of the crime.
- The police record must prove that you were a victim of a crime.
- Your friends and family members should submit a letter indicating that you suffer from physical and mental harm as a result of the crime.
If you are outside the United States and want to apply for a U visa, do the following:
- Submit all forms required for a U nonimmigrant visa at the Vermont Service Center.
- Follow the instructions sent by the Vermont Service Center. Go to the nearest US embassy or consulate for a fingerprint.
- If the USCIS approves your petition, you must go to the US Embassy for an interview.
Like all US nonimmigrant visa applicants, you must complete the DS-160 form.
Whether applying from within or outside the United States, USCIS must first issue the necessary approval. You may be on a waiting list as the annual issuance of the U visa is limited. Form I-797, Notice of Action, will be issued to you when the USCIS approves your petition.
How much does it cost to obtain a U visa?
As this visa is for victims of criminal activities, the application process is free for applicants. However, there are fees for completing and submitting some forms. If you want to be exempt from paying these fees, you must submit Form I-912, Request for Fee Waiver.
How long does it take to process the submitted documents and issue a visa?
Once you have submitted your documents to the USCIS, it will take some time to process the documents and issue the approvals. Unfortunately, the processing time for the issuance of a U visa is a bit long. It is expected that each petition will be processed for an average of 12 to 18 months.
In general, the processing time of this visa also depends on your circumstance. It is necessary to provide additional documents in some situations, in which case the processing time will be longer.
How long is the U visa valid?
The initial validity of a U visa is four years. The extension of this visa is limited to certain conditions. You can extend your visa in the following circumstances:
- In some exceptional circumstances
- Delay in consular processing
- The request of law enforcement
- Filing to get a Green Card
Read the official guidance on the US Department of Homeland Security website for more information on renewing the US U visa. If you need to extend your visa, you should file I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status.
Is there an annual cap on issuing this visa?
Yes. As mentioned, only 10,000 US visas are issued each year. This number is for the principal visa applicants and does not include their dependents and family members.
If the number of qualified applicants for a U visa exceeds that annual cap, USCIS creates a waiting list and places them on it. People on the waiting list can get Employment Authorization Document and work legally in the United States when more U visas become available; they automatically obtain them. Individuals on the waiting list do not need to take action, and USCIS will notify the petitioners of the approvals.
Can U visa holders apply for a Green Card?
As a U visa holder, you can apply for a Green Card, but you must meet the following conditions:
- Stay on the U visa for at least three years.
- Give the police all the information you know about the crime.
- You should not irrationally have refused the request of assistance to law enforcement since you obtained your visa.
Any eligible dependents who do not have a derivative U visa when the principal U visa holder receives a Green Card are no longer qualified for a derivative U visa. Although, they may be able to petition for lawful permanent residence. To apply for a Green Card for your family members, you must first file Form I-929, Petition for Qualifying Family Member of U-1 Nonimmigrant. If Form I-929 is approved for your family members, they must also submit Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status.
Can a U visa holder bring family members to the United States?
Yes. You can apply for a dependent visa for your family members, including your parents, spouse, children, and siblings. Family members of a U visa holder can obtain the following visas:
- U-2: This visa is issued to the spouse of the principal visa holder. Marriage must be legally registered, and polygamy is not accepted.
- U-3: This visa is for children of the primary visa holder, provided that a birth certificate is presented.
- U-4: If the main visa holder is under 21 years old, he/she can apply for a U-4 visa for his/her parents.
- U-5: This visa is for unmarried siblings of the principal visa holder who are under 18 years of age. To be qualified to apply for a U-5 visa, the principal visa holder must be under 21 years of age.
|Applicant age||Applicant’s dependents|
|Less than 21 years of age||You can petition on behalf of your parents, spouse, children, and single siblings under 18 years of age|
|21 years of age and more||You can petition on behalf of your children and spouse|
Your family members can also work in the United States. However, they must first obtain an Employment Authorization Document. Keep in mind that work permits for your dependents are not issued automatically.
Let’s sum up…
In this article, we tried to answer the questions that U visa applicants may face in the visa application process. On the Visa Library website, you can learn about other US visas and how to immigrate to other countries. If you have experience in obtaining a visa, you can put it in the comments section. Sharing your experiences will help other readers to make better decisions.