U-Visa Can Protect Immigrants Who Have Been Victims of a Crime
For many years an enormous proportion of immigrants have lived in isolation for fear of being incarcerated and/or deported from the United States. That distress of removal can lead many to detaching from different aspects of society. Unfortunately, this can lead to many immigrants who have been victims of crimes, especially those undocumented, from reporting crimes or calling the police because they fear the worst. Fortunately, there are laws in place that help victims of crime seek a path towards legalization. The path is available for victims who have helped a government agency in their investigation or prosecution of a crime. In October 2000, Congress enacted the U Nonimmigrant Visa. The U-Visa was intended to strengthen the ability of law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute crimes. The U-Visa created protections for the victims who suffered physical or mental injuries as a result of a crime and thereafter cooperated in the investigations of those crimes.
Since it’s enactment, the law has been successfully used by many immigrants to seek a path towards being able to lawfully live and work in the United States. The law does not automatically grant permanent residency status to someone whose petition has been approved, nor does it grant citizenship. A recipient of a U-Visa is allowed to apply to become a lawful permanent resident (“green card holder”), after three years of U-Visa Status. Moreover, certain qualifying members are eligible for a derivative U-Visa based on their relationship to the principal applicant. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) provides a lot of helpful information about the U-Visa petition including eligibility, applicable crimes and more.
It is imperative to be well informed and represented by an attorney throughout the U-Visa process because it can be rigorous and complicated. While the number of U-Visa applicants has steadily increased throughout the years, each year the total number of petitions that may be granted to principal applicants is capped at 10,000. According to USCIS, the number of applicants for U-Visa petitions received has been over 20,000 each year since 2012. In 2017 alone USCIS received over 36,500 petitions for U-Visa Status. You can find more information about this data with USCIS.
Although the law has existed since 2000, there are still many misconceptions, misguidance, and improper application of the law when it comes to the U-Visa. One of the first steps in the U-Visa process can also be one of its hardest, which is getting a certification signed by an investigatory agency, Form I-918B. The U-Visa has always been intended to help investigatory agencies from all levels including, but not limited to, Federal, State, Local, Tribal and Territorial Law Enforcement, Prosecutors and Judges. Unfortunately, not all investigatory agencies are properly informed or trained on how to best handle the certification. Lack of proper training and information can lead to investigatory agencies improperly implementing the law. For example, denying a certification because the investigation didn’t lead to a prosecution. The law does not require that the crime be prosecuted. The law instead considers whether the victim cooperated and was helpful, or in the future could provide help, in the investigation of a crime. The complexity of this perception has often puzzled agencies and has led to some denying the certification and therefore impeding the process for someone who may qualify for the U-Visa. Also, there are no statute of limitations or time limits for when the crime occurred in order to get a certification. This is one of the main reasons why it is imperative to hire an immigration attorney who is well equipped to represent you throughout the process and help overcome and conquer any hurdles along the way. Recently, the Department of Homeland Security created an enforcement resources guide available to agencies which can be found here.
The truth of the matter is, that the immigration status of an individual should not impede them from reporting and cooperating in the investigation of a crime. Often the fear of retaliation due to status can be exploited by criminals, which is why it is good that the U-Visa law exists to prevent that and to protect victims. The U-Visa process can be long and complicated, but the benefits can be life changing. Make sure you are well informed and represented.
Sacramento Immigration Attorney U-Visa
Attorney Oscar Rojas-Fuentes represents immigrants apply for relief with the U-Visa. To learn more about our law firm’s immigration practice or the U-Visa, please visit our immigration page or contact our office.
By: Oscar Rojas-Fuentes
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