Immigration Benefits for Victims of Crimes

Research has shown that immigrants in the United States are more likely to be victims of crimes than citizens in their communities. Foreign-born victims of crime may be less likely to report a crime because of fears that they may be arrested and deported if they contact the police. Thankfully, U.S. law provides some humanitarian protections for legal and undocumented immigrants who have been victims of certain crimes. There are specific protections for victims of domestic violence, victims of certain crimes, and victims of human trafficking.

Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)

All too often, immigrant victims of domestic violence may feel trapped in their marriage to an abuser because of their immigration status.  Abusive spouses may use their undocumented spouse’s immigrant status as a means of controlling their victim.  The abuser may refuse to file a petition or withdraw a petition to have their way with the victim.  Others may threaten to call immigration and have their spouse deported or tell their victim that they will be deported if they call the police.  Thankfully, US immigration law has protections for such victims which enable them to leave an abusive partner and self-petition for permanent residency.

Victims of domestic violence who are the child, parent, or current/former spouse of a United States citizen or a permanent resident (green card holder) and are abused by the citizen or permanent resident may be eligible to apply for a green card themselves (self-petition) without the need of the abuser to file for immigration benefits on their behalf.

Victims must establish that they:
• Have or had a qualifying relationship with the abuser spouse, or, are the parent or child of the abuser,
• Reside or resided with the abuser,
• Have good moral character, and
• Have been victims of battery or extreme cruelty.

VAWA provisions apply equally to men and women. Victims of domestic violence, whether a spouse, child, or parent of the abuser, may self-petition by filing form I-360, Petition for Widow(er)s, Amerasians, and Special Immigrants. Once the applicant’s VAWA petition is approved, they will qualify for protection from deportation, work authorization and may be eligible to qualify for lawful permanent residency.

U Nonimmigrant Status

A U visa is a temporary non-immigrant status visa available to certain immigrants who were victims of crime. Congress created the U nonimmigrant visa in 2000 when it passed the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act. Its motivation was to encourage immigrants to report crimes to law enforcement and also to afford protection for those willing to cooperate.

Victims are not required to be in legal immigration status, but they must:
• Be a victim of qualifying criminal activity and have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of the crime,
• Possess credible and reliable information about the qualifying criminal activity,
• Be, have been, or are likely to be helpful to the investigation and/or prosecution of that qualifying criminal activity, and
• Be a victim of criminal activity that violated a U.S. law.

Victims of the following crimes may be eligible for a U nonimmigrant visa:
Abusive Sexual Contact
Domestic Violence
False Imprisonment
Female Genital Mutilation
Felonious Assault
Hostage Taken
Involuntary Servitude
Obstruction of Justice
Witness Tampering
Sexual Assault
Slave Trade
Sexual Exploitation
Unlawful Criminal Restraint
Other Related Crimes

To apply for U nonimmigrant status, the victim must first request that a law enforcement official such as police, prosecutor or judge who was involved in the investigation and prosecution of their crime, certify the form I-918, Supplement B. After law enforcement has certified the form, the victim may file Form I-918, Petition for U Nonimmigrant Status.

Immigrants who are granted U visa status receive automatic work authorization, legal status for a period of four years, the ability to apply for permanent residency after three years, and the ability to provide U status to certain derivative relatives such as children and spouses.

One of the benefits of a U visa is that an applicant who otherwise is ineligible to qualify for permanent residency due to their immigration or criminal record, may qualify for a waiver for their inadmissibility.  For example, an immigrant who has previously made false claim to US citizenship is generally barred from receiving immigration benefits for life, including being petitioned by a family member.  However, if the person qualifies for a U visa, they may be able to have this issue waived.

T Nonimmigrant Status

The T nonimmigrant status (or T visa) provides immigration protection to victims of severe forms of trafficking in persons who assist law enforcement in the investigation and prosecution of human trafficking cases. Human trafficking is illegally transporting people from one country or area to another, typically for the purposes of forced labour or commercial sexual exploitation. It is considered a modern form of slavery. In October 2000, Congress created the “T” nonimmigrant status by passing the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (VTVPA). The law strengthens the ability of law enforcement to investigate and prosecute human trafficking. Additionally, it offers protection to victims.

To qualify for a T Visa, victims are not required to be in legal immigration status, but they must:

•Be a victim of a severe form of trafficking in persons,
•Be physically present in the United States on account of the trafficking,
•Comply with any reasonable requests for assistance in the investigation or prosecution (or be under the age of 18), and
•Suffer extreme hardship involving unusual and severe harm if removed from the United States.

To apply for a T nonimmigrant status, applicants must file Form I-914, Application for T Nonimmigrant Status.

If you would like to know if you qualify for these benefits, contact us today at 602-314-4333 and one of our experienced Phoenix immigration lawyers will be happy to discuss your case.