When a serious crime has been committed, justice can only be served when the perpetrator of the crime is successfully prosecuted and jailed. Unfortunately, justice is often not served when the victim of the crime is an undocumented immigrant due to fear that reporting a crime may result in negative immigration consequences. In an effort to combat this fear and rightly redress victims of crimes, Congress passed the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act of 2000. This Act created the U Visa, for victims of serious crimes, and the T Visa, for victims of trafficking.
To be eligible for a U crime victim’s visa, an individual must provide evidence establishing the following requirements:
The individual, or a qualifying relative, must have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse due to a qualifying criminal activity;
The victim has information concerning the criminal activity;
The victim has been helpful, is being helpful, or is likely to be helpful to law enforcement officials in investigating or prosecuting the criminal activity; and
The crime violated US laws or occurred within the US.
The types of criminal activities that qualify a victim for a U visa are numerous. There is no exhaustive list of offenses, but rather they are defined by various federal, state and local criminal laws. Examples of qualifying criminal activities include domestic violence, child abuse, rape, sexual abuse, abduction, involuntary servitude, torture, murder, witness tampering, obstruction of justice, perjury, kidnapping, prostitution, trafficking, false imprisonment, blackmail, and extortion. In the domestic violence context, it is worthwhile to note that it includes offenses between non-married couples. As well, the immigration status of the criminal perpetrator is irrelevant, so it includes offenses committed by one undocumented individual to another.
To be eligible for a T trafficking visa, an individual must provide evidence establishing the following requirements:
The individual is or has been the victim of a severe form of human trafficking;
The individual is in the US because of human trafficking;
The individual would suffer extreme hardship if removed or forced to leave the US; and
The individual is or has been either cooperating with law enforcement in the prosecution of the crime, is excused from cooperating, or is under the age of 18.
As to what constitutes human trafficking, the DHS has described it as a “form of modern-day slavery in which traffickers lure individuals with false promises of employment and better life.” Not only does it include the common concept of trafficking, such as sex slavery, but it also includes situations that lead to debt slavery and forced labor. For example, trafficking can be when an individual is forced to work indefinitely to pay off the person who smuggled them to the US or when threats or physical force is used to make the person work.
Individuals eligible for a U or T visa can obtain legal status in the US and a work permit valid for a period of 4 years. If the victim is under the age of 21, then his/her parents, spouse, children, and unmarried siblings under age 18 are also eligible for a U or T dependent visa. If the victim is age 21 or older, then the victim’s spouse and children may obtain a U or T visa as well.
Individuals granted a U or T visa may thereafter apply for permanent residency upon fulfilling the following: (1) be a U or T nonimmigrant; (2) be physically present in the US continuously for at least 3 years as a U or T nonimmigrant; and (3) he/she has not unreasonably refused to provide assistance to law enforcement officials prosecuting the criminal activity underlying the U or T Visa.
The U and T visas empower victims to not only ensure that justice against the criminal perpetrators are obtained, but also to secure justice for himself/herself as a victim deserving of an opportunity in the United States. The attorneys at Aquino & Loew are highly qualified immigration law experts ready to help individuals burdened by such traumatic experiences.