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Legal Status for Victims of Crimes

March 05, 2013
Ana Maria Echiburu Tyrrell

Most undocumented individuals living in the U.S. are less likely to contact law enforcement if they are a victim of a crime due to the fear of deportation. To minimize this fear and to strengthen the ability of law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute crimes, Congress created the U nonimmigrant visa in October 2000 through the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act. Under the Act, if a victim of certain crimes meets specific requirements, such as cooperating with law enforcement,  he or she may obtain legal status in the U.S. by applying for U nonimmigrant status.

To be eligible for U nonimmigrant status, an individual must meet the following criteria:

  • The individual must have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of having been a victim of a qualifying criminal activity (see below);
  • The individual must have credible and reliable information concerning that criminal activity;
  • The individual must have been helpful, is being helpful, or is likely to be helpful, in the investigation or prosecution of the crime; and
  • The qualifying criminal activity occurred in the U.S., or in U.S. territories or possessions, or violated a U.S. federal law that provides for extraterritorial jurisdiction to prosecute the offense in a U.S. federal court.

Qualifying criminal activity includes the following crimes:

  • Rape
  • Torture
  • Trafficking
  • Incest
  • Domestic violence
  • Sexual assault
  • Abusive sexual contact
  • Prostitution
  • Sexual exploitation
  • Female genital mutilation
  • Being held hostage
  • Peonage
  • Involuntary servitude
  • Slave trade
  • Kidnapping
  • Abduction
  • Unlawful criminal restraint
  • False imprisonment
  • Blackmail
  • Extortion
  • Manslaughter
  • Murder
  • Felonious assault
  • Witness tampering
  • Obstruction of justice
  • Perjury
  • Attempt, conspiracy, or solicitation to commit any of the above mentioned crimes

On February 28, 2013, the House of Representatives also passed a version of the Violence Against Women Act, which was previously approved by the Senate, that expands the list of qualifying criminal activity to include stalking.

U nonimmigrant status is available for up to 10,000 qualifying victims annually and to their dependents; the status lasts for four years. Additionally, a person in U nonimmigrant status may be eligible for permanent resident status, or a “green card,” after three years of continuous presence in the U.S.

If you have been a victim of a crime and would like to discuss your eligibility for U nonimmigrant status, please contact Minsky, McCormick & Hallagan, P.C. to schedule a consultation.

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