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The U Visa and How It Can Protect Workers

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The U Visa and How It Can Protect Workers

Unions and other worker advocates often witness, first-hand, employer exploitation and abuse of immigrants in the workplace. Abusive practices may violate collective bargaining agreements, wage and hour laws, equal employment protections, or the right of workers to engage in protected concerted activity. Sometimes, however, employer abuse of workers will rise to the level of criminal activity. In those situations, depending on the crime and other factors, workers may be eligible for a U nonimmigrant visa. This form of immigration status provides important relief and an alternative for workers in abusive environments who fear losing their existing lawful immigration status through employer retaliation or who are targeted for lack of a current lawful status and, as a result, hesitate to report criminal activity to law enforcement. With the possibility of protection and relief through a willingness to assist law enforcement, workers are more able to hold employers accountable and can feel empowered to improve their workplace conditions.

What Is the U Visa’s Purpose?

Congress created the U nonimmigrant visa in 2000 when it passed the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act.  Its purpose was to encourage immigrants to report crimes to law enforcement and also to afford protection for those willing to cooperate.  Congress intended that the law would protect victims of domestic and other violent crimes, but it also explicitly expressed its intent that the visa protect against qualifying workplace-related crimes.

What Are the Benefits of the U Visa?

U visa status benefits include the following:

  • Lawful status for up to four years;
  • Work authorization;
  • Derivative benefits for qualifying family members; and
  • Eligibility to adjust status to a lawful permanent resident after three years.

When Is a Worker Eligible for a U Visa?

To be eligible for a U visa, a worker must meet the following criteria:

  1. The worker has suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of having been a victim of a qualifying criminal activity;
  2. The worker has information about the criminal activity;
  3. The worker has been helpful, is being helpful, or is likely to be helpful in the investigation or prosecution of the crime; and
  4. The criminal activity violated local, state, or federal law, or occurred in the U.S.

What Constitutes Qualifying Criminal Activity?

The following is a list of criminal behaviors that were recognized as ones that are often directed against immigrants and that therefore constitute qualifying criminal activity for purposes of U visa eligibility.  The list includes categories of federal, state, or local criminal violations, and it attempts to paint the picture of the variety of activities that may qualify.

There are a few important points to note before reviewing this list:

  1. The list names different categories of crime but is not exhaustive.  Other crimes substantially similar to the listed crimes may also qualify.
  2. “Investigation or prosecution” of a crime includes the detection or investigation of a qualifying crime or criminal activity, as well as prosecution, conviction, or sentencing of the perpetrator of such crime or criminal activity.  USCIS intended this term to be interpreted broadly, since entities such as judges have certifying authority, though they do not investigate or prosecute crimes. Similarly, labor enforcement agencies are permitted to certify U visas on the basis of qualifying criminal activity they detect, even if they lack the authority to prosecute it.


  • Rape
  • Sexual assault
  • Abusive sexual contact
  • Trafficking
  • Unlawful criminal restraint
  • False imprisonment
  • Blackmail
  • Involuntary servitude
  • Witness tampering
  • Obstruction of justice
  • Felonious assault
  • Extortion
  • Torture
  • Incest
  • Domestic violence
  • Kidnapping
  • Abduction
  • Forced prostitution
  • Sexual exploitation
  • Being held hostage
  • Peonage
  • Manslaughter
  • Murder
  • Female genital mutilation

Contact one of our experienced immigration lawyers in New York at 718-407-0871 or online at https://www.prizant-law.com if you need help with U Visa or any other solutions to your immigration problems.

Contributed by Svetlana Prizant, an Award Winning New York Immigration Lawyer

Call or visit Prizant Law at:

Prizant Law

118-21 Queens Blvd, Suite 507

Forest Hills, NY 11375

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