Immigration: The ABCS of the U Visa

Congress created the “U” nonimmigrant classification, known as the U-visa, as part of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act of 2000. The U-visa protects crime victims from deportation and strengthens the ability of law enforcement agencies to detect, investigate, prosecute, and solve cases of domestic violence, sexual assault, trafficking, and other crimes.


The U visa is a unique benefit because it allows an applicant to obtain status and ultimately permanent residence based on criminal activity. The U nonimmigrant status (also known as the U visa) is set aside for victims of crimes who have suffered mental or physical abuse as a result and who are willing to assist law enforcement and government officials in the investigation of the criminal activity.


The U visa is designed for noncitizen crime victims who (1) have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse from criminal activity; (2) have information regarding the criminal activity; (3) assist government officials in the investigation or prosecution of such criminal activity; and (4) the criminal activity violated US law or occurred in the United States (including Indian country and military installations) or the territories and possessions of the United States.

The abuser does not need to be a US citizen or lawful permanent resident and you do not have to have been married to the abuser to be eligible for a U visa. You are not required to be physically present in the US to qualify for a U visa. You can apply from abroad as long as the criminal activity violated US law or occurred in US territories.

To petition for U nonimmigrant status the applicant must obtain a Federal, State or local government official investigating a qualifying criminal activity c certify that the victim has been, is being, or will likely be helpful in the prosecution of the criminal act(s) of which he or she was a victim. Those who have been granted U-1 nonimmigrant status may file for permanent residency using Form I-485 upon meeting certain requirements. There is also a two-stage process for qualifying family members of a U-1 nonimmigrant status holder to apply for permanent residency. USCIS can only grant U visa status to 10,000 noncitizens in each fiscal year. This number does not include persons eligible for U-visa derivatives status – e.g., spouses, children or parents of applicants. U visas last for four years. After three years, U-visa holders may apply for lawful permanent residence. U-visa holders automatically qualify for employment authorization.


Disclaimer: This article is a broad overview and is provided as a public service. This article is not intended to establish an attorney-client relationship. Any reliance on the information contained herein is taken at your own risk. The information provided in this article should never replace informed counsel when specific immigration-related guidance is needed. 


About the Writer:
Safiya Byars ([email protected]) is the senior partner and owner in the Law Office of Safiya Byars ( She is an active member of the Caribbean and International communities in Georgia. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Montevallo and received her law degree from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Her office is located at 160 Clairemont Avenue, Ste. 200, Decatur, Georgia 30030.  Attorney Byars handles all immigration matters, deportation defense, family law issues, and business formation/litigation. To discuss you case, contact Attorney Byars at 404-992-6506 or 678-954-5809.