Each year the U.S. government sets aside a limited number of visas for victims of crime, spousal and domestic violence, and human trafficking. These nonimmigrant visa classes provide temporary status to individuals in the United States who are or have been victims of a severe form of trafficking or who have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as victims of criminal activity. The intended recipients of these visas are individuals who have been victims of sex trade, slavery, involuntary servitude, and immigrant women and children who have been subject to violence. These visa classes are similar to those available to refugees and, if all the conditions are met, offer the recipients the ability to apply for permanent resident status in the future.
Here is a brief description of each of these visa classes along with their eligibility requirements:
U Visa – Visas for Victims of Crime
The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 created a special U visa status to encourage undocumented immigrants who have been victims of certain crimes to come forward and report those crimes and assist law enforcement in investigating and prosecuting the offenders. The main idea behind visas for victims of crime is to provide undocumented immigrants a safe means of coming forward with serious crimes with fear of being deported due to their immigration status – in fact it provides a pathway permanent residency for the victims and his or her dependents.
Victims of domestic violence crimes, stalking, sexual assault or certain other crimes (which could have nothing to do with domestic abuse) may apply for U visa status.
To be eligible for a U visa (visas for victims of crime) the applicant must meet ALL of these requirements:
- certification from law enforcement or other certifying agency that they have been helpful or will be helpful in the investigation or prosecution of one of the crime categories listed in the U visa law;
- show that they have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse from the above crime;
- show that they have information regarding the criminal activity described in the certification; and
- the criminal activity in question must have occurred in U.S. soil or Territory and must have violated U.S. law
U visa applicants must also be “admissible” to the United States, and if they are not admissible, they must demonstrate that they qualify for a waiver of inadmissibility.
VAWA Visa – Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”)
Passed by Congress in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA was created to protect victims of spousal or domestic abuse who are not citizens of the United States. Marriage-based immigration in the U.S. is dependent on the U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse sponsoring and filing petitions on behalf of his or her foreign-born husband or wife to help them obtain permanent resident status (green card).
Normally, if the marriage is less than two years old when the foreign-born spouse obtains their legal permanent resident status, they would get a “conditional permanent residence”. In such cases the U.S. citizen spouse would have to file a joint petition with the immigrant spouse to remove the “condition” so they can obtain full permanent residence (i.e., a 10 year green card).
However, in an abusive relationship where domestic violence is involved, the abusive U.S. Citizen or permanent resident spouse can use the foreign-born wife’s immigration status as a means of gaining power and control over her. VAWA, therefore, was enacted to allow noncitizen victims of abuse to get legal permanent residency status on their own without involving the abusive U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse filing anything on behalf of the victim.
Victims of domestic violence may file a VAWA petition in order to get deferred action, to adjust status to get a green card, or to remove conditions.
T Visa – Victims of Human Trafficking
Human traffickers recruit or kidnap their victims and force them into sex-work or forced labor. Traffickers often use victims’ social or economic status to lure them in and keep power over them and control their victims through:
- threats or violence against the victims’ family in their home countries;
- threats or violence on the victims themselves;
- confiscating the victims’ passport, identification, and money; or
- confining the victims in fixed locations and denying them free movement.
Trafficking victims who have been granted a T visa have the right to legally live and work in the U.S. for a period of up to four years. The recipient must provide evidence of being the victim and provide assistance to law enforcement investigating or prosecuting acts of trafficking. After having T visa status for three years (or sooner if the trafficking investigation or prosecution is over) the recipient must apply for permanent residence. In some cases, T status may be available even if the individual resides outside of the U.S.
Please note that this information is accurate as of March 2021, and may be subject to change. Always check the USCIS website or consult with an experienced immigration attorney for up-to-date information.