Immigration Options for Crime Victims & Battered Spouses, Children, & Parents: the U, T, & VAWA Visas
Immigrants are often afraid to report crimes because they fear speaking with the police could land them in immigration proceedings. The federal government however, has recognized the need for victims to speak out against their assailants in order to punish criminals and make society safe for all who live here. As a result of this awareness, USCIS has a variety of tools for crime victims to be able to obtain legal status in the US and an eventual path to citizenship.These Visas are particularly helpful because they allow individuals with criminal, unlawful presence, or deportation offenses to gain legal residency even where they are ineligible for family or employment based visas. Even aggravated felons may obtain a Visa if USCIS determines that they merit an exercise of positive discretion.
U VISA The U visa allows victims, or witnesses, of certain types of crimes to apply for a temporary nonimmigrant visa to the US and eventually legal permanent residency (Green Card) and citizenship. In order to be eligible for this visa the person must have been a victim of one of the following crimes (or attempted crimes): torture; trafficking; domestic violence; sexual assault; female genital mutilation; involuntary servitude; false imprisonment; blackmail; manslaughter; murder; felonious assault; witness tampering; obstruction of justice; or perjury. They must also suffer substantial physical or mental abuse because of this crime, be helpful in the investigation, and receive a certification from the police, prosecutor or judge in the case that they were helpful in the investigation. There is no time bar for when the crime took place, and in some limited circumstances a crime overseas can qualify. Victims may also apply overseas and come to the US once the Visa is approved.
T VISA The T visa is only available for individuals who are present in the US as a result of trafficking. The victim must cooperate with law enforcement but an important distinction is that a law enforcement certification is not required to apply for a T Visa. Some law enforcement officers are reluctant to sign certifications for a victim and the T Visa allows applicants to apply even without this certification. Like the U Visa, T Visa holders are allowed to eventually apply for legal permanent residency.
VAWA Battered spouses, parents, and children of legal permanent residents or US citizens are eligible to apply for legal permanent resident status. Unlike the U and T visas, VAWA does not require the applicant to have filed a criminal complaint against their abuser. Also, VAWA allows the applicant to immediately apply for legal permanent residency once their case has been approved. Some immigrants will be eligible to apply for legal residency under more than one of these laws. It is important to speak with an immigration attorney to determine which law best suits your case and will be the most effective in attaining your immigration goals.