U nonimmigrant status and T nonimmigrant status were created in 2000 for survivors of certain serious crimes. These types of status are colloquially known as “U visas” and “T visas”.
U visas and T visas protect and provide immigration relief for immigrant victims of crimes and human trafficking. They also enhance the ability of law enforcement to investigate and prosecute crimes committed against immigrants by protecting the immigrants from deportation and encouraging them to trust and collaborate with law enforcement in the investigation and prosecution of crimes.
The main difference between the visas is that T nonimmigrant status is specifically for noncitizens who are in the U.S. on account of a “severe form of trafficking in persons,” whereas U nonimmigrant status provides relief to victims of a broader array of criminal activity.
Our team of Louisiana-based immigration attorneys at Pelton and Balducci has helped people from all over the world seek immigration relief and obtain these types of visas. Read on to learn more about the process and whether these visas would be helpful in your situation.
The similarities and differences between U and T visas
There are significant similarities AND important differences between U and T visas.
- Their purpose is to protect certain immigrant crime victims and encourage their cooperation with law enforcement;
- Requirements for both visas include cooperation with law enforcement;
- They provide generous “inadmissibility” waivers that allow people to obtain status even though they may have a prior immigration history (like a deportation order);
- They provide work authorization;
- They allow petitions for certain family members, including spouses, children, as well as siblings and parents of child victims;
- They provide paths to permanent resident status (green cards).
Both types of visas may be available to human trafficking survivors. Additionally, both visas allow survivors to remain in the U.S. in order to assist law enforcement in investigation or prosecution.
The U visa, however, provides relief for a broader range of criminal victimization. In addition to trafficking victims, U visas provide protection to victims of a number of other crimes including:
- Abusive Sexual Contact
- Domestic Violence
- False Imprisonment
- Female Genital Mutilation
- Felonious Assault
- Fraud in Foreign Labor Contracting
- Involuntary Servitude
- Obstruction of Justice
- Sexual Assault
- Sexual Exploitation
- Slave Trade
- Witness Tampering
- Unlawful Criminal Restraint
- Other Related Crimes*
*Includes any similar activity where the elements of the crime are substantially similar.
Additionally, U visa applicants must demonstrate substantial physical or mental harm resulted from the qualifying criminal activity.
Often, the biggest hurdle to getting a U visa is the fact that the application requires a law enforcement certification on a specific form prescribed by USCIS.
T visa visas are available only to survivors of a “severe form of trafficking in persons” who are in the United States on account of the trafficking activity. For example, a person who was tricked into coming to the United States and who is then forced to engage in forced labor or sexual activity after their arrival would meet this requirement.
T visa applicants are also required to be helpful in the investigation or prosecution of the crime, but they are not required to obtain a law enforcement certification the way U visa applicants are.
Another important difference between the two forms of relief is that there are significant delays in U visa issuance, because there is a quota of 10,000 per year. So U visa applicants often wait in excess of five years before getting a decision. While this has been remedied somewhat by the issuance of deferred action and employment authorization for applicants with pending cases, applicants’ ability to petition for family members and apply for permanent resident status is still delayed.
Although there is a smaller quota for T visa applicants (5,000), there are many fewer applicants, so T visas are not backlogged. This means that T visa applicants don’t have to wait for a visa to become available after USCIS reviews the case.
Therefore, trafficking victims who are eligible for either type of relief should generally opt for the T visa to avoid an extensive waiting period.
Why should I apply for a U or T Visa?
U visa or T visa holders may temporarily remain and work in the United States.
Both visas typically last for four years. However, after three years, visa holders can apply for adjustment to lawful permanent resident status (green card) in the U.S.
One requirement at the time of applying for lawful permanent resident status is that the U or T visa holder must continue assisting law enforcement throughout the duration of time spent in U or T visa status.
As noted above, U or T visa holders may petition for certain family members, who will also have a path to permanent residency. Therefore, U and T visa statuses are important and powerful immigration benefits that may help people who have no other form of relief available to them.
How do I apply for a U visa or T Visa?
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) of the Department of Homeland Security adjudicates applications for both U and T visas. The entire process is done by mail (no in-person interview). The petitions require substantial information, as well as often voluminous documentary evidence.
In the case of a U visa, the original supplemental Form I-918 Supplement B must be signed by the certifying law enforcement official and submitted with the Form I-918 and other evidence within six months of the I-918 Supplement B signatory date. The certifying signature confirms that the applicant has cooperated with law enforcement in investigation and/or prosecution of the underlying offense.
Securing a properly signed I-918B is often one of the hardest parts of the case. Even though U and T visa benefits have been around for over 20 years, many law enforcement agencies remain unaware of them.
In addition to the forms, applicants should provide any other evidence of substantial physical or mental harm suffered as a result of the offense, such as medical evidence, psychological evaluations, witness affidavits, etc.
Contact our team of Louisiana Immigration Attorneys Today
Our team at Pelton and Balducci has over 50 years of combined experience helping future Americans follow their dreams. If you have questions about the U or T visa application process, contact our knowledgeable team in New Orleans, Louisiana.