Visas for Some Crime Victims Are Available but Difficult to Get

It sounds good on paper, but in reality the program to help nonimmigrant crime victims isn’t all that it could be. The U nonimmigrant status (or U visa) is for victims of certain crimes who suffered mental or physical abuse and who are helpful to law enforcement or other government officials in the investigation or prosecution of criminal acts.

The program was created when the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (including the Battered Immigrant Women’s Protection Act) was passed in October 2000. The law was meant to help law enforcement investigate and prosecute cases of domestic violence, sexual assault, trafficking of aliens and other crimes when the victims were undocumented, suffered substantial mental or physical abuse and were willing to help law enforcement authorities investigate or prosecute the crime.

The law enforcement agencies that can certify a crime victim’s eligibility vary by county and state. These agencies must confirm the criminal act is on a proscribed list and that the victim was helpful in assisting the police. If approved by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the visas allow crime victims to stay and work in the U.S. for up to four years and to apply for permanent residency.

Crime victims who may qualify face many obstacles, as reported in the New York Times:

  • A limit of 10,000 U visas a year (As of September 2015, there were nearly 64,000 pending applications, a backlog of six to seven years.)
  • Police prejudice against undocumented immigrants and ignorance of the law by law enforcement and court officials
  • Suspicion by authorities those seeking these visas may fabricate or exaggerate crimes in order to obtain the visa
  • Complex application process requiring the proper legal strategy to have a better chance of success.

Law enforcement and court officials may not make filling out the required forms a priority, according to Reuters, leaving immigrants in legal limbo. Reuters cites these examples from 2009 to 2014:

  • New York City verified 1,151 crime victims, while Los Angeles verified 4,585. Los Angeles is less than half the size of New York.
  • The population of Oakland, California, is less than 5% of New York’s size, yet law enforcement there verified 2,992 immigrant crime victims. Sacramento, California, slightly larger than Oakland, verified only 300 immigrant crime victims.

These variations suggest interest by government officials in helping varies widely, and there could be thousands of victims of violent crimes who have sought U visas but haven’t got one. Reuters reported some law enforcement agencies make up their own rules as to which cases will be certified.  Because of this approach, it’s often local law enforcement, not the USCIS, deciding who does or does not get a U visa.

Though the program is far from perfect, if you live in Kentucky and think you may qualify for a U visa, you can learn more on this USCIS webpage, or call CF Abogados at (859) 971-0060 or fill out the online contact form if you have any questions about the U visa or another aspect of immigration law.