T and U Visas
Victims of serious crimes in the United States may be eligible to apply for special visas called T or U Visas.
T Visas are available to victims of human trafficking, typically when people are smuggled across the border for forced labor (manual labor or sexual labor). This can sometimes include wage theft and other kinds of coerced labor. T visas do not require a law-enforcement officer to certify the crime, but this can help bolster the strength of the application.
U Visas are available to victims of qualifying crimes from a limited list of serious crimes.
Learn more about U Visas here. One important requirement to qualify for a U Visa is that the victim must have cooperated with law enforcement in the investigation and prosecution of the crime. This means that if victims fail to appear in court, or do not take calls from prosecutors, they may not be eligible to receive a U Visa even if they were victims of serious crimes.
The process of applying for a U Visa is very long. It begins with requesting a U Visa Certification from one of the law enforcement agencies who participated in the investigation or prosecution of the crime. This could include the police department, sheriff’s office, prosecutor or District Attorney’s office, and/or the judge. The law enforcement agency does not have to certify a U Visa, even if you meet all of the eligibility requirements. Each agency, jurisdiction, and department has a different procedure and set of policies about signing U Visa Certifications. Some jurisdictions have never heard of a U Visa at all; others have a designated U Visa contact person.
If the U Visa Certification is signed, the U Visa application must be filed with USCIS within six months of the date of signature. Filing the application with the signed U Visa Certification puts the applicant in the very long line for a decision.
USCIS only issues 10,000 U Visas per year, even though many more people apply. This means that the line keeps getting longer, and it only shortens by 10,000 people each year. The backlog is so long that all of the annual U Visas are typically issued within the first day of their release. To try to address this years-long delay, USCIS conducts a provisional approval so that applicants can receive work permits while they wait for their place in line to be current.
This means that if the U Visa case isn’t filed correctly, applicants may not discover this for five years or longer. In order to get in line for the provisional work permit and make sure that your U Visa case is filed correctly from the beginning, contact an experienced immigration attorney with expertise in U Visas.