The United States government issues visas to immigrant victims of certain crimes, which automatically allows those immigrants to legally live and work in the U.S for up to four years. These visas are known as U-visas, and they are nonimmigrant visas – only 10,000 are issued every fiscal year. Immigrants holding U-visas can include their family members, specifically spouses, children, unmarried siblings under 18, parents and stepparents as well as adoptive parents.
To be eligible for a U-visa, the immigrant applicant must have suffered significant physical or mental abuse caused by criminal activity in at least one of more than 20 categories, including torture, murder, sexual assault or rape, kidnapping, slave trade, obstruction of justice or hostage situations, or involvement in solicitation to commit any of the above mentioned crimes.
An applicant’s petition must include information on how the immigrant victim can help U.S. government officials learn more about the crime, including but not limited to aiding in an investigation or prosecution of the individuals that committed the crimes. Applicants for U-visas must also be willing to cooperate with local law enforcement. Also, to be eligible for this visa, the crimes against the victim must have taken place in the United States or in a U.S. territory, or they must have violated a United States law.
The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act started to provide U-visas in 2000, but they weren’t formally distributed until 2008. Between 2009 and 2013, the number of applicants for a U-visa increased dramatically. More victims request assistance from the government every year. The visa they are applying for gets them involved in a program that is designed to boost cooperation with law enforcement. Federal officials attribute the increase in U-visa applications to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) outreach campaign to protect these vulnerable populations. Officials see the increase as a positive sign that more law-enforcement organizations are participating and more immigrants are aware of the protections offered by the government.