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Fostering Cooperation from Silent Victims
U Visas & VAWA Self-Petitions: Relief for Immigrant Victims of Crime

Victims of crimes who are immigrants in the U.S. may be more apprehensive about reporting the violence that has been committed against them to the proper authorities. The reasons for not reporting can vary based on an individual’s experience. Some do not report due to distrust of law enforcement, the fear of corrupt police officers in their home countries, lack of knowledge of the proper channels in the US and fear of deportation for the victim. Victims are also sometimes fearful of deportation of family members, whose nationalities and immigration statuses may vary from their own. Whatever the reason, victims who are less cooperative with authorities make apprehending and prosecuting the perpetrator an uphill battle.

Often victims of serious crimes who are immigrants do not realize that they can seek relief from violence and abuse in their lives through a visa known as a U Visa (US Citizenship & Immigration Services Form I-918). Law enforcement officers, investigators and prosecutors can provide the avenue by which these victims no longer live with violence. Here are some of the crimes for which victims are eligible to apply for this relief:

  • Murder
  • Manslaughter
  • Domestic violence
  • Rape
  • Torture
  • Trafficking
  • Sexual assault
  • Abusive sexual contact
  • Prostitution
  • Sexual exploitation
  • Female genital mutilation
  • Being held hostage
  • Peonage
  • Slave trade
  • Kidnapping
  • Felonious assault
  • Any similar activity in violation of federal, state, or local criminal law

What are the requirements for the U Visa?

  • The victims must have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse due to a crime above.
  • The victim must have information about the crime.
  • The victim must have been helpful or must be willing to be helpful to an investigation or prosecution of the crime that was committed against him or her.
  • The crime must have happened in the United States or violated laws of the United States.
  • The victim must have verification from a police officer, law enforcement officer, prosecutor, judge, immigration official (or any other authority that is investigating or prosecuting the crime), stating that he or she has been helpful, is being helpful, or is likely to be helpful in the investigation or prosecution of the crime.

What about victims married to abusive US Citizens/lawfully-present residents?

An individual who is abused by his or her legal spouse, who is a US citizen or lawful resident, may be eligible to apply for a VAWA Self-Petition (USCIS Form I-360).

For example, a victim’s spouse may hit, punch, slap, kick, push or hurt her or her children, force her to have sex when she does not want to, and threaten to have her deported if she tries to report his criminal behavior to the proper authorities. The victim can report the crime and seek relief for herself and her children from the abuse.

What are the requirements for the VAWA Self-Petition?

  • Legal marriage or parent/child relationship with an abusive U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident.
  • Evidence of abuse, defined as “battering or extreme cruelty.”
  • Abuse occurred during the marriage or during the parent/child relationship.
  • Residence with the abuser at some point.
  • For abused spouses, the abused spouse married in good faith (not in an arrangement for the purpose of receiving the privileges of legal status).
  • Good moral character (no serious criminal convictions or immigration violations).

Seek Assistance from an Attorney

There are certain restrictions, and victims should utilize the assistance of a licensed immigration attorney, who is familiar with these petitions when seeking relief. Many Legal Aid offices help victims with this assistance. Immigration law changes frequently (and without notice). Here are some Web links that can provide up-to-date information:

This article is for informational purposes, and should not be considered legal advice.

Benefits of Victim Cooperation

When victims who are immigrants fear police and other authorities, they are far less likely to cooperate with law enforcement, perpetrators of these serious crimes are less likely to be prosecuted, and communities will continue to harbor such violence. Police officers, law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges and investigators should be poised to provide assistance for victims, making it safer for us all.

For more information about the benefits of cooperation for victims, communities and law enforcement, visit the FBI’s Web page:

Last Updated December 2009