The U visa was created to encourage non-citizen victims of specific crimes to come forward and help law enforcement investigate or prosecute these crimes. This visa allows non-citizens to remain legally in the U.S. for up to four years (some extensions are available).
A U visa has many other benefits, including a pathway to permanent residency status, also known as a green card. Here’s a complete guide on a U visa to a green card transition. But first, let’s define a U visa and discuss its eligibility requirements.
What Is a U Visa?
A U visa is a nonimmigrant visa available to victims of particular crimes who have suffered substantial mental or physical abuse and are collaborating with law enforcement in investigating or prosecuting the crime. The U.S. Congress developed this framework in October 2000 as a part of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act.
The U nonimmigrant visa provides temporary legal status, including work authorization, to certain individuals who have suffered mental or physical abuse. The U visa protects the victims who might otherwise be afraid to come forward due to fear of deportation and other consequences. This means that individuals who may be undocumented or have overstayed their visas can come forward to report crimes.
Examples of qualifying crimes include but are not limited to the following:
- Domestic violence
- False imprisonment
- Female Genital Mutilation
- Felonious assault
- Human trafficking
- Sexual assault and exploitation
- Slave trade
More information about qualifying crimes is available here.
U Visa Eligibility Requirements
To be eligible for a U visa, you must be a victim of a qualifying crime. The crime must have been committed in the U.S. or violated U.S. law. Additionally, you must:
- have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of the crime;
- have information and evidence concerning the crime which is likely helpful in the investigation or prosecution of the crime;
- have reported the crime to law enforcement or a government agency, except when you cannot do so due to physical or psychological trauma;
- be admissible to the U.S.; and
- be present in the U.S. at the time of application.
Will a U Visa Ever Lead to a Permanent Residence Status?
If you’re a U visa holder, you may eventually obtain a green card and become a permanent resident. First, however, you must meet certain requirements.
The first requirement is to maintain your U nonimmigrant status and continuous physical presence in the U.S. for at least three years since being granted the U visa. In addition, you must show a willingness to cooperate with law enforcement in criminal investigation.
While this may present some difficulties, you must not unreasonably refuse to help law enforcement probe and prosecute the crime.
Secondly, you must meet other eligibility criteria for a green card. This includes:
- Being admissible to the U.S.
- Passing background checks
- Being a person of good moral character
Although a U visa is a pathway to a green card, each crime victim has a unique case. As a result, the process may involve a lot of paperwork, supporting documents, and investigations before approval. Consider consulting an experienced immigration attorney for assistance.
Steps to Apply for A Green Card as A U Visa Holder:
U visa holders apply for a green card through the Adjustment of Status process. After determining eligibility, the applicants can apply for a green card by following these steps:
1) Filing Form I-485
You must complete Form I-485, the green card application form, if eligible.
Then, provide the required supporting documents, which include but are not limited to the following:
- Your Form I-797C, also known as Notice of Action.
- Your Form I-94, also known as Arrival/Departure Record
- All pages of your passport with a U nonimmigrant visa (if you don’t have such a document, you must explain in writing why).
Next, pay the mandatory application fees. Here’s a breakdown of the fees involved, as of April 2023.
- Biometrics: $85
- Form I-485 (Adjustment of Status): $1,140
- Total: $1,225
Since USCIS fees are subject to change, you should use the USCIS Fee Calculator tool to check the most current filing fees for your specific category.
Next, mail your application to the following address:
- USCIS Nebraska Service Center
- U.S. Postal Service (USPS):
- P.O. Box 87426
- Lincoln, NE 68501-7526
- FedEx, UPS, and DHL deliveries:
- Attn: 485U VAWA
- 850 S St.
- Lincoln, NE 68508-1225
2) Completing the Biometrics
Once USCIS receives your application, they’ll schedule a date for your biometrics appointment, which includes taking your fingerprints and photograph.
3) Attending the Green Card Interview
During your Permanent Resident Card interview, the officer will review your application and supporting documents, ask important questions, and determine your eligibility for a green card.
4) Awaiting A Decision
The USCIS will review your application and decide whether to approve or deny your request. If they approve your application, you’ll receive your green card through the mail.
However, if denied, the USCIS will send you a letter stating their reasons for the denial and whether or not you can appeal their decision.
It’s important to note that the green card application process may take several months or longer, depending on various reasons. For example, USCIS backlogs, green card availability, or changes in USCIS policies may cause delays, leading to longer green card processing timelines.
Green Card for Family Members of U Visa Holders
Certain family members of a U visa holder living in the United States may be eligible to apply for a green card through the adjustment of status. These family members are known as ‘derivative U nonimmigrant family members’, and they include the U-1 nonimmigrants:
- spouse (U-2);
- child (U-3);
- parent (U-4); and
- sibling (U-5).
To apply, the U visa holder must file Form I-485 on behalf of the family member. In this case, the U visa holder becomes the petitioner, while the family member becomes the beneficiary.
The family members must also meet other eligibility criteria for applying for a green card through the Adjustment of Status process. These include:
- Being physically present in the U.S. at the time of application
- Being lawfully admitted to the U.S. under the U-2, U-3, U-4, or U-5 nonimmigrant status
- Having maintained their U-2, U-3, U-4, or U-5 nonimmigrant status at the time you file your Form I-485
- Having a continuous presence in the U.S. for a continuous period of at least three years since being admitted as a derivative U nonimmigrant
- Being admissible to the U.S.
Filing Form I-929 for Family Members of U-1 Visa Holders
Family members who have never held a U nonimmigrant status must follow a different process when applying for a green card. First, the U visa holder files Form I-929, Petition for Qualifying Family Member of a U-1 Nonimmigrant. Then, if the family member is in the U.S., they may immediately apply for a green card once they receive approval for Form I-929.
However, suppose the family member lives abroad and has an approved Form I-929. In that case, they must apply for an immigrant visa through a U.S. embassy or consulate to enter the United States. Then, they can apply for a green card through the Adjustment of Status process.
Family members who have never had a U nonimmigrant status must also meet other requirements to be eligible for a green card. These include:
- Having an approved Form I-929
- Being admissible to the U.S.
- Meriting a favorable exercise of discretion
New “Bona Fide Determination” for U Visa Application Explained
The “bona fide determination” for U visa applicants is the process that the USCIS uses to determine whether an applicant’s petition for a U visa is made in good faith and based on qualifying criminal activity. In 2021, the USCIS issued new guidelines for this policy, allowing USCIS officers to thoroughly review the evidence the U visa applicants present.
This includes considering factors such as the timing and circumstances of the criminal activity, the applicant’s relationship to the perpetrator, and any actions the applicant takes to help cooperate with the authorities.
Can You Qualify for a U Visa If You’re Outside the United States?
U visa applicants or qualifying family members outside of the United States are not eligible for a bona fide determination. This is because the process is specific to U visa applicants currently residing in the United States and seeking a change of status to that of a U nonimmigrant.
How to Check A U Visa Status?
You can check the status of your pending U visa case by contacting the USCIS online or by calling their offices directly. While at it, you must provide your details, such as your full name, date of birth, and any other information that can help identify your case.
Is There a U Visa Cap?
The U visa has a limit of 10,000 visas per year for principal petitioners (no cap for family members). If the U nonimmigrant visa cap is reached, a waiting list will be created for eligible petitioners who will receive deferred action or parole and work authorization while waiting for additional visas.
Once additional U visas become available, petitioners on the waiting list (also those who received a bona fide determination) will receive their visa in the order their petition was received, without needing to take any additional steps.
How Will the DHS Determine That a U Visa Application Is Genuine?
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) considers several factors and reviews the evidence submitted to determine whether your U visa application is bona fide. Some of the factors the officer considers include:
- The qualifying criminal activity,
- The applicant’s physical or mental abuse,
- The applicant’s willingness to cooperate with law enforcement,
- The applicant’s admissibility to the U.S.
How Soon After Approval Can I Become a Lawful Permanent Resident?
If your U visa application is approved, you may be eligible to apply for lawful permanent residence (a green card) after you have held U nonimmigrant status for at least three years.
To apply for a green card, you must file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This process involves several steps, including a biometrics appointment and a green card interview. As a result, it may take several months before you can finally receive your green card.
Be sure to use the Case Status Online tool on the USCIS website to check the status of your green card petition. All you need is your receipt number.