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U Visa Relief For Immigrant Victims Of Crime Alive And Well


I recall when the U Visa Program was initially launched.

I doubted the program’s ability to succeed. I did not think many undocumented immigrants would be willing to act as quasi-informants and embrace the notion of actively assisting law enforcement agencies in combating certain forms of crime.

Although a special immigration program promoted on humanitarian and abuse protection policies, I doubted widespread participation.

In short, a U visa petition requires certification that the victim, generally an immigrant without documents to live legally in the U.S., has been helpful to law enforcement – and that step, alone, seemed to signify the program’s uphill struggle for acceptance.

Immigrants can qualify for U visas if they meet four requirements:

  • They were victims of certain crimes in the United States
  • They suffered substantial mental or physical abuse as a result of the criminal activity
  • They helped law enforcement authorities investigate or prosecute those crimes
  • The law enforcement agency certified the victim helped them investigate or prosecute the criminal acts

Additionally, if the victim has been living in the U.S. without permission, he or she will need to apply for a waiver.  (Most immigrants who contact my office about U visas fit into this category.)

During my first U visa cases, most law enforcement officers were not keen on the idea of working with immigrants, whom were also law breakers in their eyes.

Since request for a waivers are decided on humanitarian, family unity, or public interest considerations, I felt that a high rate of U visa applications, much less U visa approvals,  was questionable.

Given these early interactions, I was surprised by the USCIS findings outlined in a recent press release.

USCIS Approves 10,000 U Visas for 7th Straight Fiscal Year
News Alerts, U.S. Citizenship And Immigration Services, December 29, 2015

U visas are available for victims of certain qualifying crimes who have suffered substantial mental or physical abuse and are willing to help law enforcement authorities investigate or prosecute those crimes.

Congress created the U visa program 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 117,579 victims and their family members have received U visas since the program began in 2009.

Time has proven my assumptions wrong.

That’s good news.

Nonetheless, I wonder how many immigrants who assisted law enforcement agencies and been granted U visas have been placed on a track to permanent residency.

After all, legalization is the end goal for all immigrants.

It would be beneficial, as a green card lawyer, to know what, if any, numerical variance exists between the total of immigrants granted U visa status and the total of U visa grantees who later apply for permanent residence and become green card recipients.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services report did not include these figures.

This is a crucial question.

For instance, in my Riverside immigration law practice, the information would either reassure me about the long-term safety against deportation provided to applicants or provide a sense of caution regarding engaging in yet another stop-gap temporary  immigration measure.

Is the short-term benefit, in other words, worth the long-term risk for immigrants?

To be sure, it is good that as the U visa program is currently structured, after an immigrant has been present in the U.S. continuously for three years after the date of admission as a U Visa recipient, applying for adjustment of status to lawful status is possible.

However, this outcome is not automatic.

U visa adjustment is still a discretionary benefit.  The burden is on the immigrant to show a favorable exercise of discretion is warranted to grant permanent residency.

Presumably, most immigrants who have been fortunate to turn a bad situation into a opportunity for permanent residence won’t squander the opportunity with foolish actions while still in temporary U visa status.

And if that is true, I’d say the U visa program is very much alive and doing well.

Immigration News Curation By Carlos Batara