Visas for Victims of Crime, Domestic Violence, and Human Trafficking

You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice.

-Bob Marley

U Visa: Immigration Relief for Survivors of Domestic Violence and Other Crimes

Immigrant victims of certain crimes who have been helpful in a criminal investigation or prosecution may qualify for a visa that can lead to a green card. The applicant must first receive law enforcement certification demonstrating their helpfulness in the investigation and/or prosecution. Receiving law enforcement certification is a critical first step in applying for a U-visa.

There is currently a substantial delay in U-visa adjudications. To relieve some of the hardship the delay is causing applicants, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is issuing deferred action to applicants whose U-visas seem approvable, but for whom visas are currently unavailable due only to the backlog and annual cap of 10,000 U-visas per year. If deferred action is granted by USCIS, the applicant is protected from deportation and may apply for work authorization. 

The requirements for U-Nonimmigrant status are:

  1. The applicant must have suffered “substantial physical or mental abuse” as a result of being the victim of certain crimes, including “rape, torture, trafficking, incest, domestic violence, sexual assault, abusive sexual contact, prostitution, sexual exploitation, female genital mutilation, being held hostage, peonage, involuntary servitude, slave trade, kidnapping, abduction, unlawful criminal restraint, false imprisonment, blackmail, extortion, manslaughter, murder, felonious assault, witness tampering, obstruction of justice, perjury, or attempt, conspiracy, or solicitation to commit any of these crimes.” The criminal activity must have violated the laws of the United States or occurred in the United States or one of its territories or possessions;
  2. The applicant must possess information concerning the criminal activity, and must be helpful, have been helpful, or likely to be helpful with the investigation or prosecution of the crime. For minors under 16 years of age, a parent, guardian, or “next friend” who has information about the criminal activity may be the one to cooperate with law enforcement;
  3. The applicant must obtain a certification from a law-enforcement official, prosecutor, judge, Department of Homeland Security (DHS), or other federal or state authorities investigating or prosecuting the criminal activity; and
  4. The applicant must be admissible under immigration law or must qualify for a waiver of inadmissibility.

If U Nonimmigrant status is approved, the applicant will be granted such status for four years. After holding three years in U-nonimmigrant status and continuous physical presence in the U.S., the applicant will be eligible to apply for adjustment of status, assuming they meet all of the other requirements.

T Visa: Immigration Relief for Survivors of Sex or Labor Trafficking

Human trafficking survivors may be eligible for lawful status, employment authorization, and a potential path to permanent residency if their requests for T-Nonimmigrant status is approved. Labor trafficking, sex-trafficking, and domestic servitude are all examples of human trafficking which is prohibited under U.S. law. Many trafficking survivors do not realize that what they endured amounts to human trafficking, until the elements are explained to them by someone familiar with the legal requirements and process. 

There are up to 5,000 T visas available each year. Spouses and unmarried children (and, if the applicant is under 21, parents and unmarried minor siblings) of T-visa applicants may also qualify as dependent family members of the trafficking victim. There is no limit on the number of visas available for qualified family members. 

The requirements for T-Nonimmigrant status are:

  1. The applicant is a victim of a severe form of trafficking;
  2. The applicant is physically present in the United States on account of trafficking;
  3. The applicant reports to law-enforcement officials and assists in any investigation or prosecution of the traffickers (victims under 18 years of age are exempted from this requirement); and
  4. The applicant can demonstrate that she will suffer extreme hardship involving unusual and severe harm if removed from the United States.

Unlike the U-visa, law enforcement certification is not required to apply for a T-visa, but reporting the trafficking is a requirement. If a T-visa is approved, it will lead to four years of T-Nonimmigrant status, and after the third year, the applicant may proceed with an application for adjustment of status, assuming they meet all of the other requirements.

VAWA: Immigration Relief for Survivors of Domestic Violence

Ab self-petition filed through the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) allows an abused spouse or child of a U.S. Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident or an abused parent of a U.S. Citizen to petition for lawful status in the United States, receive employment authorization, and access public benefits. VAWA provides domestic violence survivors with the means that are essential to escaping violence and establishing safe, independent lives. 

Under VAWA, noncitizen victims of domestic violence, child abuse, or elder abuse may “self-petition” for LPR status without the cooperation of an abusive spouse, parent, or adult child. Victims may also self-petition if they are divorced as long as the marriage to the abusive spouse was terminated within two years of filing the petition, and there is a connection between the divorce and the domestic violence. 

An approved VAWA self-petition provides the applicant with work authorization, deferred action, and an approved petition which allows him or her to apply for lawful permanent residence. When the individual applies to become a Lawful Permanent Resident, he or she is subject to the family preference system and any backlogs that may exist. Thus, spouses and children of U.S. citizens may apply immediately and receive a green card as an immediate relative. By contrast, spouses and children of LPR abusers are placed into the family preference system along with all other petitions for spouses and children of lawful permanent residents and are subject to backlogs.

There is no limit to the number of VAWA self-petitions that may be filed in any given year.

VAWA self-petitions are available to:

  1. Spouses and former spouses of abusive U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. Divorced spouses may self-petition if the termination of the marriage was related to the abuse and if the application is filed within two years of the termination of the marriage.
  2. Children of abusive citizens or lawful permanent residents who file before turning 25.
  3. A noncitizen parent of an abused noncitizen child, even if the noncitizen parent is not herself abused.
  4. Non-citizen spouses whose children are abused by the child’s other U.S.-citizen or LPR parent.

The requirements for VAWA self-petitions are: 

  1. That the self-petitioner was subjected to battery or extreme cruelty;
  2. Good faith marriage if the abuser is a spouse or step-parent; 
  3. The relationship to the abuser (spouse, parent, child, step-child, etc.);
  4. The immigration status of the citizen or LPR spouse, parent, or child; 
  5. The self-petitioner’s good moral character; and
  6. Residence in the U.S. with the abusive family member.

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