The U Visa: A Crime Victim's Path to Lawful Permanent Residency

"Rape in the Fields," a PBS Frontline episode originally broadcast on June 25th, highlights the dangers that undocumented women (women present in the United States without authorization from the U.S. government) face every day on the job.

The documentary focuses on sexual abuse of undocumented female farm workers. However, undocumented women in all industries face abuse and exploitation due to the power that their employers and supervisors wield over them - the threat of notifying the government that they are here without status. Many undocumented women fear that if they report a crime or harassment against them at work, then either their employer or the police will turn them over to immigration, and they will eventually be deported.

In fact, this is a valid fear because it does occur in some cases. However, there is hope for women in this difficult situation. The U visa was created in the year 2000 in order to provide undocumented victims of crime with an avenue to lawfully remain in the United States. To qualify for the U visa, an applicant must show that she is a victim of crime, that she has suffered substantial mental or physical abuse due to the criminal activity, and that she possesses information concerning the criminal activity. She must obtain a certification from a law enforcement agency stating that she has been, is being, or is likely to be helpful in the investigation or prosecution of the criminal activity. 

Applicants may include their spouses, as well as their children under the age of 21 years, in their applications. In addition, if an applicant is under the age of 21 years, she may include a parent or unmarried sibling under the age of 18 years as well.

Although a U visa is a non-immigrant visa, which means that it authorizes temporary residence in the United States, it can lead to Lawful Permanent Residency (a green card) in some circumstances. Generally the holder of a U visa may obtain Lawful Permanent Residency if she has been physically present in the United States in U visa status for 3 years, has not unreasonably refused to provide assistance to law enforcement in the matter that led to the U visa, and can show that her continued presence in the United States is justified either on humanitarian grounds or to ensure family unity or that it is in the public interest.