There are two categories of visas available to certain foreign-born crime victims in the U.S., providing them with immigration protection and temporary status in the U.S.: the "T" and the "U" visas.
In brief, the T visa is potentially available to victims of a severe form of human trafficking and agree to help law enforcement. U visas are reserved for crime victims who have suffered mental or physical abuse and agree to help law enforcement and government officials.
T and U visas were created under the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act in October 2000. Benefits run to both the government and the crime victims. Investigations and prosecutions of crimes are more successful, and crime victims can receive important immigration benefits.
Someone who holds a T or U visa may (depending on how events play out) eventually be eligible to file for lawful permanent residence in the United States (get a "green card").
Qualifying for a T Visa
The T visa, or T nonimmigrant status, was designed to provide protection to victims of a severe form of trafficking in persons (similar to slave labor). To qualify for a T visa, you must show that:
- You're in the U.S., American Samoa, or the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, or the port of entry to one of these, due to human trafficking.
- You are or have been a victim of a severe form of human trafficking.
- You would suffer extreme hardship, involving unusual and severe harm upon removal from the U.S., and
- You are cooperating with reasonable requests from law enforcement authorities who are conducting investigations and prosecutions of human trafficking. This requirement doesn't apply when an applicant is under age 18 or is unable to cooperate owing to physical or psychological trauma.
- You are not inadmissible to the U.S. (barred from entry because you have certain crimes on your record or present a security or health risk).
What Is a Severe Form of Trafficking?
An applicant can show having been a victim of a "severe form of trafficking in persons" by showing that he or she was recruited or brought to the U.S.:
- by force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of a commercial sex act or while under age 18, or
- by force, fraud or coercion for labor or services in the nature of involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.
Applying for a T Visa
If you are a trafficking victim, you apply to USCIS for a T visa on Form I-914, adding Form I-914 Supplement A if you wish to include any eligible family members. Also include three passport size photographs for each person, your personal statement explaining how you were a victim (using Form I-914 or within an attachment), and any other evidence showing what happened to you and that you meet the eligibility requirements.
Though not technically required, you should also obtain and submit Form I-914, Supplement B, Declaration of Law Enforcement Officer for Victim of Trafficking in Persons, to show you have law enforcement agency support.
Qualifying for a U Visa
Eligibility for a U visa has less to do with the reasons you were brought to the U.S. and more to do with what happened to you after you arrived here. You qualify for a U visa if you:
- have been the victim of one of the crimes listed or described in § 101(a)(15)(U) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (I.N.A.), either as a direct victim or an indirect or bystander victim (for example, someone who witnessed a murder, or is a close family member of the victim)
- have suffered mental or physical abuse (such as mental anguish or physical injury) at the hands of the U.S. perpetrator of the crime
- possess information about the crime that is useful to U.S. law enforcement agencies
- have (most likely following your own request) received a certification of helpfulness from a federal, state, or local law enforcement official, which states that you have provided or will provide assistance with the investigation or prosecution of the crime, and
- the crime violated U.S. laws or occurred in the U.S. or its territories or possessions, and
- you are not inadmissible to the U.S. (for example, do not have any communicable diseases of public health significance, have not committed any of various crimes, and do not present a risk to U.S. security).
What Kinds of Crimes Qualify the Victim for a U Visa?
Qualifying crimes for U visas include violent crimes such as murder, manslaughter, vehicular homicide, robbery, and felonious assault, sexual crimes such as rape, incest, sexual trafficking, sexual assault, prostitution, and sexual exploitation, obstruction of justice, extortion, fraud in foreign labor contracting, and more. Domestic violence (i.e. by someone within the victim's own family) can be the basis of a U visa.
The instructions to USCIS Form I-918 (discussed below) contain a full list of crimes.
Applying for the U Visa
Form I-918 is the petition with which to apply to USCIS for a U visa. You can file Form I-918 as a crime victim, or on behalf of a victim. Government officials, either federal, state or local, can use Form I-918, Supplement B, to certify the victim's situation and that he or she was, is, or is likely to be, of help in prosecuting the crime. A crime victim's family members can petition for U visas on USCIS Form I-929.
Seeking Lawful Permanent Residence After Having Held a T or U Visa
If you have a T or U visa, you may eventually be able to adjust your status and become a U.S. lawful permanent resident (a green card holder). Use Form I-485 to apply.
If you're a T visa holder, you must show, in order to be eligible for a green card:
- That you have been physically present in the U.S. continuously for three years since your approval or admission as a T nonimmigrant, or a continuous period during an investigation or prosecution of the trafficking crime and the prosecution is complete.
- That you have been a person of good moral character during this same period of time.
- That you have continued your cooperation with investigations or prosecutions of the trafficking crimes
- That you would suffer extreme hardship involving unusual and severe harm if you were to be removed from the United States.
- You do not fall into any of the grounds of inadmissibility.
If you're a U visa holder, you must show , in order to be eligible for a green card:
- That you have been physically present in the U.S. for a three-year continuous period since admission as a U nonimmigrant.
- That you have not unreasonably refused to assist in the relevant criminal investigation and prosecution.
- That you should be allowed to stay on in the U.S. based on either humanitarian grounds, to ensure family unity, or for the sake of the public interest (for example, you are still assisting with a not-yet-complete criminal investigation or prosecution).
- You do not fall into any of the grounds of inadmissibility.
Questions for Your Attorney
- What are the fees for applying for a T or U visa, and for seeking permanent resident status?
- If I have a T or U visa, will that status authorize me to work? How about my family members?
- Are there limits on which family members can apply for T or U visas and subsequent U.S. lawful permanent residency? Are my extended family members eligible, or just my spouse and children?