Out from the Shadows: Green Cards for Victims of Criminal Activity

By: Gregory J. Eck

Victims of Domestic Violence may be eligible for a green card

Many immigrants are not aware that victims of crime may eligible for a U visa and a green card. I spoke with a client recently who had been subject to physical and verbal abuse by her estranged husband. She was able to obtain an order of protection for both herself and their two children, which is welcome and important for her safety and that of her children. However, my client, an undocumented immigrant, was unaware of the additional benefit of the U visa. Created by Congress in 2000, the U visa is available 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. The legislation was intended to strengthen the ability of law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute cases of domestic violence, sexual assault, trafficking of noncitizens and other crimes, while also protecting victims of crimes who have suffered substantial mental or physical abuse due to the crime and are willing to help law enforcement authorities in the investigation or prosecution of the criminal activity. The legislation also helps law enforcement agencies to better serve victims of crimes.

In order to qualify for a U visa, you must 

  • Be the victim of one of several crimes listed in the law.
  • Have suffered physical or mental abuse as a result of that crime.
  • Be willing to cooperate with the authorities regarding that crime.
  • Have information regarding the crime which you are willing to share with law enforcement. If you are under 16 years old, you may have a family member or guardian share the information for you.
  • Be admissible as a non-immigrant in the U.S. “Admissible” is a specific legal term and means that there are no bars to your eligibility for a non-immigrant visa.  Such things might include a criminal record, prior history of immigration violations, or other issues.
  • If you are inadmissible, you’ll need to file an application for a waiver. If this application is approved, the inadmissibility will be waived. 

Can I work with a U visa?

Yes, but it’s complicated. Before June 2021, an applicant had to wait until her U visa was approved  before she could get an employment authorization document (EAD).  Sometimes this process could take up to five years or more.  However, in June 2021, USCIS updated its policy guidelines and now, once once USCIS determines that a U visa petition is bona fide – that is, “made in good faith; without fraud or deceit,” they will issue an EAD, allowing you to work and remain in the  United States while your U visa application is pending. 

Can I get a Green Card?

Yes, but there are certain conditions.   If you already have a U visa, to qualify for a green card you must:

  • Be in U status for at least three years.
  • have been continuously physically present in the U.S. for three years or more.
  • Continue to cooperate with authorities in prosecuting the crime against you.
  • Be otherwise eligible for permanent residence.

What Now?

If you are the victim of a crime, including domestic violence, and think you may be eligible for a U visa, you should contact a qualified immigration lawyer who can assist you with this process.   Like most things involving immigration, it can be complicated and confusing.  The Law Office of Gregory J. Eck, LLC can assist you with this process.  Contact us to get answers about this or any other immigration question you might have. 

How Do I Become a U.S. Citizen?

I get this question all the time from many different people,  both U.S. citizens, visitors from abroad, permanent residents, even strangers on a plane.    Here is my three minute elevator speech, which you can read, study, and share with others, on how to become a U.S Citizen:

A person can become a U.S. citizen in a few different ways:

  • By being born in the United States;  
  • By being born outside the United States to U.S. citizen parents;
  • By applying for citizenship through a process called “naturalization.”    

This article focuses on the third of these three options.  If you have a question about the first two, i.e. birth in the U.S. or birth to parents who are U.S. citizens, you should contact an immigration lawyer to get the whole picture.  

The process for becoming a U.S. citizen for people who weren’t born in this country is called, “naturalization.”  

Generally speaking, to be eligible for citizenship, you must:

  • Be 18 years of age or older; Be at least 18 years of age;
  • Be a permanent resident for a certain amount of time (usually 5 years or 3 years, depending on whether you got your green card through work or marriage); 
  • Have a period of continuous residence and physical presence in the United States;
  • Be a person of “good moral character”;
  • Be able to read, write, and speak basic English; and,
  • Understand U.S. government and history (there’s an English and civics test at the citizenship interview).

Exceptions for Becoming a U.S. Citizen

There are exceptions to these rules to account for many variations in people’s circumstances. For instance, you may not be required to take the civics or English test if you are a certain age or if you  are unable to study for the test due to a disability. 

There are also certain timing exceptions if you are in the U.S. military or are married to a U.S. citizen who is.  

What Should You Do if You Want to Become a Citizen?

If you meet, or believe you meet, the above requirements, you should contact an immigration lawyer to help with the application.  And if you think you don’t meet the above requirements because, for example, you were arrested for shoplifting when you were sixteen, or entered the U.S. illegally and have since married a U.S. citizen, or maybe you got your green card but then returned to your home country for a while, you should still contact an immigration lawyer, because there are exceptions to many of the rules about this process.  The United States is glad to help people become citizens and will make an exception in certain circumstances to make this possible.  Also, the process can be more complicated than you think, and you can save yourself a lot of time and worry by working with a good immigration lawyer through this process.  Contact the Law Office of Gregory J. Eck if you have any questions.