Too often immigrants are victimized by crime, sometimes without even realizing a crime has occurred. Exploitation, fraud, extortion and other crimes go unreported and undetected in our immigrant communities because immigrants are often fearful of ending up in trouble themselves if they turn to the authorities for help. But the U Visa program, which has been getting a lot more attention in recent months, can provide some benefit and relief to those who have been crime victims. It provides a potential way for immigrants to turn misfortune into an opportunity to obtain legal status.
The U visa program is set aside for “victims of certain crimes who have suffered mental or physical abuse and are helpful to law enforcement or government officials in the investigation or prosecution of criminal activity.” It is a nonimmigrant visa that provides the applicant with legal residence in the U.S for an initial period of three years. (Click here to read more about the requirements for the program.) The U visa was originally established by Congress in 2000 as part of a legislative effort to combat human trafficking and prevent abuse, by offering protection to victims who help law enforcement better investigate and prosecute criminal activity. Since then the U visa program has begun to find broader application in other contexts.