How to obtain a U visa

This week in my column Immigration Consultation®, I explain how certain crime victims can obtain a U visa that allows them to live and work legally in the United States:

This is the column:

A young Guatemalan man assaulted and stabbed; a Mexican woman, victim of domestic violence; a Salvadoran woman, victim of rape; and another, victim of an armed robbery in a restaurant - all, regardless of their country of origin, have something in common. They are undocumented immigrants who were victims of a violent crime. That fact could make them eligible to apply for a U visa, putting them on the path to permanent residency in the United States.

The cases mentioned are real. These individuals turned to me for guidance on their cases, due to the lack of adequate information and confusion about this visa and who is eligible to receive it.

What is the U visa?

It is a special nonimmigrant visa granted by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to persons who have been victims of crimes such as rape, incest, kidnapping, extortion, murder, attempted murder, domestic violence, and human trafficking, among other crimes.

To be eligible, the person must have been the victim of a qualifying crime that occurred in the U.S. or violated U.S. law. Must have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of the criminal act. In addition, he or she must cooperate and assist authorities in the investigation or prosecution of his or her abusers.

There are other factors, a little more complex as the conditions of admissibility to the country, which are also evaluated in an application for this immigration benefit, so it is essential to consult with an immigration attorney before starting any immigration process.

One of the benefits of this visa is that certain family members of crime victims are also eligible for a U visa derived from the petitioner. For example, if the victim is under the age of 21, he or she may file a petition that includes his or her spouse, unmarried minor children, parents, and unmarried siblings under the age of 18. If he or she is over 21, he or she may only file a petition for his or her spouse and minor unmarried children.

Ten thousand U visas are available each fiscal year (October 1 to September 30). According to USCIS statistics, more than 76,000 victims and their immediate family members have received U visas since U visas began being issued in 2008.

The U visa is a temporary visa extended for a period of four years. At the end of that period there are options to apply for permanent residency by meeting certain requirements. I will give you more details about this in my next column.