U Visas: Answers to Common Questions
If you have been the victim of a crime while in the United States you may qualify for temporary permission to live and work here.
U Nonimmigrant Status, also known as a U visa, is for (1) crime victims; (2) who reported that crime to law enforcement; (3) cooperated in any investigation or prosecution of the crime; and (4) have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of the crime.
If you are granted U nonimmigrant status, you will be granted a work permit for four years. After living in the U.S. with U nonimmigrant status for three years, you might qualify for LPR status.
To apply for a U visa, you will need a law enforcement agency to sign a certification form (Form I-918B). By completing the form on your behalf, law enforcement confirms that you were the victim of a qualifying crime, and that you are helping in the investigation or prosecution.
You can request the certification form (Form I-918B) from the law enforcement agency (police, constable, sheriff’s office) that you reported the crime to, the District Attorney’s office (prosecutor’s office) that is pursuing the criminal case in court, or the Judge who hears the criminal case in court.
That means that you need to know which agency you reported the crime to. Police officers will often give victims a piece of paper with a case number or an incident number, which may also list the name of the agency and/or the contact information of the officer. You can use that to find out which agency you reported to. If you don’t have an incident number or a case number, and you don’t know which agency you reported the crime to, you may need to contact more than one agency (i.e. the local police and the local sheriff’s office) to find out who took the report.
If you get a signed certification form (Form I-918B), you must submit your U visa application with the required evidence to USCIS within six months of the date the certification form is signed. Only 10,000 U visas can be granted every year, and there is a backlog. It will likely take five years or more to receive a decision on your U visa application. You must continue to cooperate with law enforcement after you file your U visa application.
If you don’t have a copy of the police report, get one. Most police departments have a way to request records, sometimes called Open Records or Public Information. You can often do it online, in person, or by mail. Contact the law enforcement agency that you reported the crime to, to ask how to request a copy of the public version of your police report.
Most law enforcement agencies have one or more victim advocates who coordinate and communicate with crime victims. Contact the victim advocate department/point person at the law enforcement agency if you need help getting a copy of your report, communicating with law enforcement about an ongoing criminal case, getting a protective order, etc.
Some law enforcement agencies have deadlines to request a certification form (Form I-918B). Make sure that you contact an immigration attorney and request a certification form from the law enforcement agency before the deadline, otherwise you may lose the chance to apply for a U visa. You can find nonprofit immigration attorneys here.
Houston Police Department
The deadline is different for each crime:
- Assault on a family member (domestic violence) – misdemeanor: 2 years
Aggravated assault - felony: 3 years
Aggravated robbery - felony: 5 years
Extortion: 5 years
Kidnapping: 5 years
Manslaughter/murder: no deadline
Obstruction of justice/hindering prosecution: 3 years
Perjury: 2 years
Prostitution/compelling prostitution: 10 years
Sexual assault: 10 years
Sexual abuse of a child: no deadline
Tampering with witness: 3 years
Trafficking of persons: 10 years
Unlawful restraint: 3 years
Harris County Sheriff’s Office
- They do not have a deadline but they will not sign a certification form if the case has gone to the Harris County District Attorney’s office (i.e. if the perpetrator has been arrested and/or charged with a crime).
Harris County District Attorney’s Office
- The case must be active/pending in court, or if it is closed, the deadline is within five years of when the crime occurred.
Law enforcement agencies surrounding Harris County
- Many of the District Attorney’s Offices of surrounding counties will sign a certification form, and do not have set deadlines (i.e. Galveston County, Montgomery County, Fort Bend County, Brazoria County). Many of the local police departments or sheriff’s offices in these counties will not certify or do not certify very often. If you have been the victim of a crime in a county outside of Harris County, your best chance at obtaining a certification form is by cooperating with law enforcement so that your perpetrator is arrested and charged by the District Attorney’s Office.
Law enforcement agencies in other parts of Texas
- Contact an immigration attorney in your area to find out if the law enforcement agency you reported the crime to certifies, and if so, what their deadlines and other requirements are.