Visa Options for Victims of Crimes in Virginia

There are a number of visas that are available in the US. The most common ones are U Visas and VAWA applications, which fall under the Violence Against Women Act. These are available to people who have been victims of domestic violence in the US and where the abuser needs to have been the spouse of the applicant and also a US citizen or a legal permanent resident.

Another type of visa is asylum, but the important difference between U Visas, the VAWA application, and asylum is that for VAWAs and U Visas, the victimization needs to have occurred within the US. For asylum applications, to qualify, you need to have been victimized or under the threat of being victimized or persecuted in your home country. An experienced Virginia immigration attorney will be essential in helping individuals who are victims of crimes in Virginia in seeking and understanding their correct visa options.

Process for Obtaining the Visa

If someone has been a victim of a crime in the US, and if it is one of the crimes that is enumerated under the U Visa legislation, and they were helpful in the investigation and prosecution of the crime, they can consult with an immigration attorney and may be eligible for a U Visa and begin their application.

Qualifying Criminal Activities for Eligibility

There are a number of crimes that can render an individual eligible for a U Visa. There is a list of crimes that is enumerated on the law enforcement certification. It may include crimes like abusive sexual contact, domestic violence, false imprisonment, felonious assault, female genital mutilation, incest, kidnapping, manslaughter, murder, peonage, perjury, rape, sexual assault, and a number of others.

These are general definitions that are federally-enumerated crimes so someone needs to evaluate how the crime has been charged. If it is not a federal crime, they need to evaluate how the crime has been charged or investigated on a state or local level and then make the argument that the statute would fall under the federal definition of the enumerated crime that they are going to argue for a new visa.

Length of the Process

The process is a lengthy for a U Visa, as it will take a year or more for the Vermont Service Center to adjudicate the initial application for the U Visa. Once the initial adjudication occurs, someone will receive a letter, which will be a provisional approval or denial of their case. With that, they can apply for a work authorization because they will be in deferred action status.

After that point, they need to wait until more U Visas open up under the cap. That happens every October at the beginning of the fiscal year and once a number opens up in their case, they can be granted the official U Visa status and three years after that status is approved and they have had a continuous physical presence in the US, they can apply for a green card.

Deportation Concerns

One benefit of the U Visa is the policy of USCIS Vermont Service Center is that they are not referring denied U Visa cases to ICE for initiation of removal proceedings or for execution of removal orders for people that already have outstanding removal orders. Right now, it is not a risk, but that is not written into the statute. Someone would need to consult an attorney if they have prior orders of deportation or a serious criminal record that may render them deportable, because that is a policy that can change at any time as it is not written into the statute, and they would need to go over their visa options with an attorney to take those orders into consideration.

U Visa vs. Asylum Protection

A U Visa is an available visa option in Virginia for individuals who have been victims of serious crimes in the US and have been helpful in the investigation and/or prosecution of those crimes. Asylum is an option for people who have arrived in the US or who are applying in the Consular Embassy abroad and who have been persecuted in their home countries by an entity that the government cannot or will not control, or by the government itself. There needs to be a substantial likelihood that they will be persecuted if they returned to their home county. It is a different set of circumstances and a different application process.

Application Denial

If someone’s U Visa is denied perhaps because they were not cooperative in the investigation or prosecution of the crime or they were unable to obtain a law enforcement certification and they are a battered spouse or child, they have another option as a victim of a crime in Virginia and may be eligible to apply instead for VAWA, if they were married to an abuser who is a US citizen or a legal permanent resident. For the VAWA application, it does not actually require helpfulness with the police and it actually does not even require that they had a reason to call the police and it is not dependent on the reporting of a crime.

Benefit of an Attorney

There are a lot of ways that an attorney can help in allocating and explaining all visa options for victims of crimes in Virginia, such as the U Visa. One of the most important roles for an attorney is in cases where someone may not be sure their crime is a qualifying crime or it is not one of the enumerated crimes. In those cases, a legal argument needs to be made to USCIS under that federal umbrella definition of the crime. Those are ways attorneys can help and also in facilitating the application process for the U Visa certification which can be complicated in many jurisdictions.