I watch the news almost on a daily basis, and it’s very seldom that the news coverage goes without a violent crime being committed against someone. As a Hispanic viewer who is concerned with the perception of my race, I am always interested to hear whether the suspect is Hispanic. However, the next concern is whether the victim is Hispanic or possibly a foreign national of some other region. Specifically, I wonder whether the victim (and family members) will be informed of a “silver lining” to such dark cloud – they may qualify for a U-Visa. Far too many immigrants are unaware of the U-Visa and the benefits it may provide to them and their family.
A U-visa allows immigrants and their families to stay in the U.S. for four years and apply for permanent residency on humanitarian grounds. These benefits and pathway to legalization extend out to the victim (direct or indirect), and certain relatives (ie. Spouses, children, and sometimes siblings and parents). Since it was signed into law in 2000, the U-visa program has been hailed as a strategy to improve relations between police and immigrants. Supporters say it allows undocumented immigrants to report crimes more freely, gets criminals off the streets, and makes women and children safer. But the U-visa program has never run smoothly. The federal government took nearly seven years to implement rules for the program. Officials didn't issue the first one until 2008, and then only after a lawsuit from activist groups.
Since 2008, federal authorities have granted 10,000 U-visas a year to entice undocumented immigrants to assist police and prosecutors. To apply for a U-visa, immigrants need local law officers to verify they were victims of domestic violence, rape, attempted murder or other serious crimes. The process is started by getting local police, the district attorney's office or a judge to sign paperwork confirming they were victims of serious crimes and have cooperated with investigators and prosecutors. Then, documents go to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), who conduct background checks and decide whether to issue the visa. Immigration officials typically took 6-9 months to approve or deny an application, but that processing time has increased to approximately 12-15 because the system is backlogged.
This program has benefited thousands of people, and its continued success has led to more applicants and longer delays. The longer one takes to apply, the longer it will take to have their application processed and approved. More than 25,000 people nationwide applied for U-visas in fiscal 2013 compared with roughly 6,800 in 2009, according to the USCIS, which handles the requests. On December 11, 2013, USCIS approved the statutory maximum 10,000 petitions for U-1 nonimmigrant status (U visas) for fiscal year 2014. This marked the fifth straight year that USCIS had reached the statutory maximum since it began issuing U visas in 2008. USCIS News.
U-Nonimmigrant Status may even be granted to individuals with prior orders of removal, certain criminal convictions, and other immigration violations, including false claim of U.S. citizenship. In fact, I remain the attorney on a case involving a loving mother seeking to return to the U.S. on a U-Nonimmigrant Visa to care for her four (4) U.S. citizen children. You can read the OC Weekly article here.
For more information regarding a U-Visa I encourage you to go here. USCIS also provides valuable information about the U-Visa here.
I have assisted dozens of victims and their family members obtain their U-Nonimmigrant status, followed by their lawful permanent residence status 3-4 years later. If you, a friend, or family member has been the victim of a violent crime, I encourage you to schedule an office appointment with me, an experienced immigration attorney.
Mario Zapata is an immigration attorney practicing out of Orange County, CA and represents clients nationwide.