By and large, the prospect of moving to the United States is one that is filled with much wonder and excitement for most people involved. However, for some individuals coming from abroad, this move which often is associated with great expectations and hope can be a complete nightmare. The reason for this is for individuals that are in abusive relationships and whose status in the United States depend on their spouse, this move often means just another way for their partner to hurt them.

Many individuals who are living as foreign nationals without or with limited status in the United States do not report their abuse. This could be for many reasons, but the primary reason tends to deal with one simple phrase, “If you leave, I will have you deported.” This phrase causes otherwise naturally strong people to choose to deal with violence out of fear that they may be deported. Again, this occurs because of several reasons but many of them have to do with the circumstances that the abused individual finds themselves in. 

Usually, the individual will have been moved away from their entire family and only have their spouse to rely on. The individual may or may not be allowed to work and what money they do bring in will usually be controlled by their spouse. The individual will usually be afraid to do anything back to their legal permanent resident or citizen spouse due to fear that the police will not hear their side of the story. All these reasons are valid and all are statements I have heard victims tell me when explaining why they have not left their spouse or put up with the abuse (physical, verbal, mental, etc.). Like many of my clients, these individuals come into my office at their breaking point. However, there is relief for these individuals that can help them to escape the cycle.

For individuals who are victims of domestic violence and are foreign nationals, the United States allows them to apply for a special visa type that would allow them to leave their spouse, apply for a work visa, and begin to rise above their circumstances in exchange for helping law enforcement prosecute their spouse. This visa is called the U Visa. Passed by Congress in 2000, through the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act, the U Visa is meant to protect and reward non-citizens who have suffered significant mental or physical abuse from a qualifying criminal activity.

To be eligible for a U Visa, an individual must meet four requirements:

  • The individual must have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse from being 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 crime violated US law

In addition, the petitioner must also be legally admissible to the United States. However, if they are not admissible, they may apply for a waiver.

The types of crimes that qualify under the U Visa for qualifying crimes are plentiful and include but are not limited to: abusive sexual contact, domestic violence, kidnapping, rape, stalking, witness tampering, etc. The full list of the qualifying crimes may be found on the USCIS website. 

If a person meets the above-mentioned qualifications, they are then eligible to file a I-918, Petition for U Nonimmigrant Status. Additionally, with the submission of their application, the individual will need to submit a certification obtained from the law enforcement organization that they are assisting that states that the individual was helpful, is currently being helpful, or is likely to be helpful. This is known as a I-918 Supplement B, U Nonimmigrant Status Certification. The I-918B must be signed by signed by an authorized official of the certifying agency. Finally, the individual will also need to submit a personal statement that describes the criminal activity that they were a victim of and submit evidence as to why they qualify. This evidence may include such things as photographs, text messages, video evidence, and more. 

After filing the U Visa application, USCIS will look at the individual’s case file and decide whether their case is sufficient on its face. If they determine that it is so, the individual will be granted “bona fide status” which allows them to stay in the United States without the need of their spouse and allow them work if they submit for a I-765V, Application for Employment Authorization for Abused Nonimmigrant Spouse, while they are awaiting their U Visa. Furthermore, it also places them in line to receive a U Visa. The bona fide status is not technically legal status but it essentially stops the clock on USCIS and the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) from bothering you if you leave your spouse and as a result, have your status revoked and find yourself accruing unlawful presence. 

Unfortunately, processing times on receiving a U Visa is extraordinarily long but once an individual receives their U Visa, they will obtain legal status in the United States that lasts for four years and may be extended if more time is necessary to the individual to continue to help police or other law enforcement organizations with their investigation. After being on U Visa status for three years, an individual may then apply for legal permanent resident status after three years with the support of the certifying agency and potentially apply for green card status down the road if specific requirements are met.

This article is just a brief overview of a much denser and more complicated topic on the U Visa and it should not be viewed as a comprehensive outline. This article should not be substituted for individualized advice on your case, by a licensed attorney. If you or someone you know is in a situation where they may be eligible for a U Visa, you can set up a consultation with one of the experienced attorneys at The Werner Law Group. The direct number for our immigration department is 361-885-2883.