Thursday, September 29, 2011

Victims of Criminal Activity: U Nonimmigrant Status – FAQ I

Q: How Does One Become Eligible for U Nonimmigrant Status?

A: There are four statutory eligibility requirements. The individual must:

• The individual must have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of having been a victim of a qualifying criminal activity.

• The individual must have 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.

• The criminal activity violated U.S. laws

Q: What are the Procedures to Request U Nonimmigrant Status?

A: Foreign national victims of crime must file a, Form I-918, Petition for U Nonimmigrant Status. The form requests information regarding the petitioner's eligibility for such status, as well as admissibility to the United States. Currently, USCIS has designated its Vermont Service Center as the centralized location to receive all U nonimmigrant petitions.

Q: Is There a Fee for Applying for U Nonimmigrant Status?

A: No. The program involves the well being of petitioners and USCIS' decision to waive the petition fee reflects the humanitarian purposes of the law.

Petitioners for a U nonimmigrant status are entitled to request a fee waiver of any form associated with the filing for the U nonimmigrant status.

If you are unable to pay the filing fee, you may submit a Request for Fee Waiver, Form I-912 (or a written request). For more information about fee waiver guidance, click here.

Q: What Prevents Any Foreign National From Claiming This Status By Saying They Were a Victim of a Crime?

A: A petition for U nonimmigrant status must also contain a certification of helpfulness from a certifying agency. That means the victim must provide a U Nonimmigrant Status Certification (Form I-918, Supplement B), from a U.S. law enforcement agency that demonstrates the petitioner "has been helpful, is being helpful, or is likely to be helpful" in the investigation or prosecution of the criminal activity.

Q: What Qualifies as a "Certifying Agency"?

A: Certifying agencies can be Federal, State or local law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, judges or other authority that investigates or prosecutes criminal activity.

Other agencies such as child protective services, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the Department of Labor also qualify as certifying agencies since they have criminal investigative jurisdiction within their respective areas of expertise.

Q: How Long Can One Maintain the U Nonimmigrant Classification?

A: U nonimmigrant status cannot exceed four years. However, extensions are available upon certification by a certifying agency that the foreign national's presence in the United States is required to assist in the investigation or prosecution of the qualifying criminal activity.

Q: Can a Foreign National Petition for U Nonimmigrant Status From Outside the United States?

A: Yes. USCIS has determined that the legal framework for U nonimmigrant status permits foreign national victims of criminal activity to petition for such status either inside or outside the United States.

If not admissible to enter the United States as a foreign national, an applicant for a U visa must obtain a waiver of inadmissibility through submission of a Form I-192, Application for Advance Permission to Enter as a Non-Immigrant. This waiver is adjudicated by the Vermont Service Center of USCIS on a discretionary basis, allowing the petitioner to continue with the U nonimmigrant visa process.

Q: Is There a Cap on The Number of U Nonimmigrant Status Grants?

A: Yes. USCIS may grant no more than 10,000 U-1 nonimmigrant visas in any given fiscal year (October 1 through September 30). This does not apply to derivative family members such as spouses, children or other qualifying family members who are accompanying or following to join the principal foreign national victim.

If the cap is reached in any fiscal year before all petitions are adjudicated, USCIS will create a waiting list that will provide a mechanism by which victims cooperating with law enforcement agencies can stabilize their immigration status. Further, U nonimmigrant visa petitioners assigned to the waiting list will be given deferred action or parole while they are on the waiting list. This means they will be eligible to apply for employment authorization or travel until their petitions can be adjudicated after the start of the following fiscal year.

Q: Can Family Members of the Petitioner Receive U Nonimmigrant Status?

A: Family members who accompany the petitioner can, under certain circumstances obtain a U nonimmigrant derivative visa. The U nonimmigrant visa principal must petition on behalf of qualifying family members.

The principal petitioner needs to file a Form I-918, Supplement A, Petition for Qualifying Family Member of U-1 Recipient, on behalf of their qualifying family members.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Victims of Criminal Activity: U Nonimmigrant Status

Individuals and their families may fall victim to many types of crime in the U.S. These crimes include: rape, murder, manslaughter, domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking and many others.

Congress created the U nonimmigrant visa with the passage of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (including the Battered Immigrant Women’s Protection Act) in October 2000. The legislation was intended to strengthen the ability of law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute cases of domestic violence, sexual assault, trafficking of aliens 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.

U Nonimmigrant Eligibility

You may be eligible for a U nonimmigrant visa if:

• You are the victim of qualifying criminal activity.

• You have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of having been a victim of criminal activity.

• You have information about the criminal activity. If you are under the age of 16 or unable to provide information due to a disability, a parent, guardian, or next friend may possess the information about the crime on your behalf.

• You were helpful, are helpful, or are likely to be helpful to law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of the crime. If you are under the age of 16 or unable to provide information due to a disability, a parent, guardian, or next friend may assist law enforcement on your behalf.

• The crime occurred in the United States or violated U.S. laws

• You are admissible to the United States. If you are not admissible, you may apply for a waiver on a Form I-192, Application for Advance Permission to Enter as a Non-Immigrant.

Qualifying Criminal Activities

• Abduction

• Abusive Sexual Content

• Blackmail

• Domestic Violence

• Extortion

• False Imprisonment

• Female Genital Mutilation

• Felonious Assault

• Hostage

• Incest

• Involuntary Servitude

• Kidnapping

• Manslaughter

• Murder

• Obstruction of Justice

• Peonage

• Perjury

• Prostitution

• Rape

• Sexual Assault

• Sexual Exploitation

• Slave Trade

• Torture

• Trafficking

• Witness Tampering

• Unlawful Criminal Restraint

Petitioning for U Nonimmigrant Status (U Visa)

To petition for a U nonimmigrant status, submit:

• Form I-918, Petition for U Nonimmigrant Status

• Form I-918, Supplement B, U Nonimmigrant Status Certification, on which a law enforcement official confirms that you were or will likely be helpful in the prosecution of the case

• A personal statement describing the criminal activity of which you were a victim

• Evidence to establish each eligibility requirement.

Filing for Qualifying Family Members

To petition for a qualified family member, you must file a Form I-918, Supplement A, Petition for Immediate Family Member of U-1 Recipient, at the same time as your application or at a later time.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

10,000 U-Visas Approved

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), marking a significant milestone in its efforts to provide relief to victims of crimes, has for the second straight year approved 10,000 petitions for U nonimmigrant status, also referred to as the U-visa.
On an annual basis, 10,000 U-visas are set aside for victims of crime who have suffered substantial mental or physical abuse and are willing to help law enforcement authorities investigate or prosecute crime.

“Providing immigration protection to victims of crime and their families while aiding law enforcement efforts to bring criminals to justice is of the utmost importance to the Agency and the public we serve,” said USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas.

Due in large part to public education and partnerships forged with law enforcement agencies and service providers, USCIS reached the statutory maximum of 10,000 U-visas per fiscal year for the second year in a row since it began approving petitions for them in 2008. It is a significant milestone for the program created by Congress to strengthen law enforcement’s ability to investigate and prosecute cases of domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, and other crimes while at the same time offering protection to victims of such crimes. More than 45,000 victims and their immediate family members have received U-visas since the implementation of this program.
As part of this effort, USCIS adjudications officers have traveled to 30 cities, including Boston, Philadelphia, Seattle and Los Angeles to train federal, state and local law enforcement and immigrant-serving organizations on immigration protections available to immigrants who are victims of human trafficking, domestic violence and other crimes.

USCIS will continue to accept and adjudicate new U-visa petitions, and will resume issuing U-visas on Oct. 1, 2011, the first day of fiscal year 2012.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Why Was I Denied a Visa?: Part II


No. The consular officer will reconsider a case if an applicant can show further convincing evidence of ties outside the United States. Your friend, relative or student should contact the embassy or consulate to find out about reapplication procedures. Unfortunately, some applicants will not qualify for a nonimmigrant visa, regardless of how many times they reapply, until their personal, professional, and financial circumstances change considerably.


You may provide a letter of invitation or support. However, this cannot guarantee visa issuance to a foreign national friend, relative or student. Visa applicants must qualify for the visa according to their own circumstances, not on the basis of an American sponsor's assurance.


First encourage your relative, friend or student to review carefully their situation and evaluate realistically their ties. You can suggest that they write down on paper what qualifying ties they think they have which may not have been evaluated at the time of their interview with the consular officer. Also, if they have been refused, they should review what documents were submitted for the consul to consider. Applicants refused visas under section 214(b) may reapply for a visa. When they do, they will have to show further evidence of their ties or how their circumstances have changed since the time of the original application. It may help to answer the following questions before reapplying: (1) Did I explain my situation accurately? (2) Did the consular officer overlook something? (3) Is there any additional information I can present to establish my residence and strong ties abroad?

Your acquaintances should also bear in mind that they will be charged a nonrefundable application fee each time they apply for a visa, regardless of whether a visa is issued.


Immigration law delegates the responsibility for issuance or refusal of visas to consular officers overseas. They have the final say on all visa cases. By regulation the U.S. Department of State has authority to review consular decisions, but this authority is limited to the interpretation of law, as contrasted to determinations of facts. The question at issue in such denials, whether an applicant possesses the required residence abroad, is a factual one. Therefore, it falls exclusively within the authority of consular officers at our Foreign Service posts to resolve. An applicant can influence the post to change a prior visa denial only through the presentation of new convincing evidence of strong ties.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Why Was I Denied a Visa?: Part I

The United States is an open society. Unlike many other countries, the United States does not impose internal controls on most visitors, such as registration with local authorities. In order to enjoy the privilege of unencumbered travel in the United States, aliens have a responsibility to prove they are going to return abroad before a visitor or student visa is issued. Our immigration law requires consular officers to view every visa applicant as an intending immigrant until the applicant proves otherwise.


Section 214(b) is part of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). It states:

Every alien shall be presumed to be an immigrant until he establishes to the satisfaction of the consular officer, at the time of application for admission, that he is entitled to a nonimmigrant status...

To qualify for a visitor or student visa, an applicant must meet the requirements of sections 101(a)(15)(B) or (F) of the INA respectively. Failure to do so will result in a refusal of a visa under INA 214(b). The most frequent basis for such a refusal concerns the requirement that the prospective visitor or student possess a residence abroad he/she has no intention of abandoning. Applicants prove the existence of such residence by demonstrating that they have ties abroad that would compel them to leave the U.S. at the end of the temporary stay. The law places this burden of proof on the applicant.

Our consular officers have a difficult job. They must decide in a very short time if someone is qualified to receive a temporary visa. Most cases are decided after a brief interview and review of whatever evidence of ties an applicant presents.


Strong ties differ from country to country, city to city, individual to individual. Some examples of ties can be a job, a house, a family, a bank account. "Ties" are the various aspects of your life that bind you to your country of residence: your possessions, employment, social and family relationships.

As a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident, imagine your own ties in the United States. Would a consular office of a foreign country consider that you have a residence in the United States that you do not intend to abandon? It is likely that the answer would be "yes" if you have a job, a family, if you own or rent a house or apartment, or if you have other commitments that would require you to return to the United States at the conclusion of a visit abroad. Each person's situation is different.

Our consular officers are aware of this diversity. During the visa interview they look at each application individually and consider professional, social, cultural and other factors. In cases of younger applicants who may not have had an opportunity to form many ties, consular officers may look at the applicants specific intentions, family situations, and long-range plans and prospects within his or her country of residence. Each case is examined individually and is accorded every consideration under the law.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Visa Photo Requirement FAQ

How many photos must I submit with my visa application?

• If you are applying for a nonimmigrant visa by filling out the DS-160 or DS-1648 online form, then you must submit a digital image using the online application

• If you are applying for a K nonimmigrant visa by filling out Form DS-156, you must provide one photo.

• If you are applying for an immigrant visa using Form DS-230 or DS-260, then you must provide two (2) identical photos at your immigrant visa interview

• If you are entering the Diversity Visa Program, then you must submit a digital image as part of your entry.

• If you are applying for an immigrant visa as a Diversity Visa Selectee, you must provide two (2) identical photos at your immigrant visa interview

What type of paper should I print my photos on?
Photos must be printed on photo quality paper. The photo quality paper can be either matte or glossy photo paper.

Do my photos have to be in color?
Yes, the photos must be in color. Black and white photos will not be accepted.

How recent must my photos be?
Your photos must have been taken within 6 months of submitting your application and reflect your current appearance.

What size must my photos be?
The photo must be exactly 2 x 2 inches (51 x 51 mm).

What pose should I be in for my photo?
Your photo must be a clear shot of your entire face horizontally centered in the photo. Profile shots or photos not in focus will not be accepted. Your photo must be taken against a plain white or off-white background. Your expression should be neutral with both eyes open and directly facing the camera. Photos with unusual expressions and squinting will not be accepted.

How large should my head be in the photo?
Your head should be between 1 inch and 1-3/8 inches (between 25 and 35 mm) from the bottom of your chin to the top of your hair. If you are submitting a digital image, then your head should be between 50% and 69% of the image's total height from the top of the head, including the hair, to the bottom of the chin.

Can eyeglasses be worn for the photo?
Eyeglasses worn on a daily basis can be worn for the photo. However, there should be no reflections from the eyeglasses that obscure the eyes. Glare can be avoided with a slight downward tilt of the glasses or by removing the glasses or by turning off the camera flash.

Can I wear sunglasses or tinted glasses in my photo?
No, you cannot wear sunglasses or tinted glasses for your photo. If you are applying for a U.S. passport, and you need to wear your prescription glasses that have dark on tinted lenses for medical reasons then they may be worn in your photo. A medical certificate may be required to verify prescription eyewear. If you are applying for a U.S. visa, you may not wear any glasses with dark or tinted lenses for your photo.

Can I wear a hat for the photo?
No. Hat and head coverings should be removed for the photo unless it is worn daily for a religious purpose. The full face must be visible in your photo. The head covering should not obscure the hairline and must not cast shadows on the face.

Can I wear a uniform in my photo?
Uniforms, clothing that looks like a uniform, and camouflage attire should not be worn in photos except in the case of religious attire that is worn daily. Otherwise, normal clothing that you wear on a daily basis should be worn.

Can a parent or guardian appear in the photo of a child?
No, the child must be the only person in the photo. Nothing used to support the child should be in the camera's frame, including the arms or hands of a parent holding the child.

Is it acceptable for my child's eyes to be closed in his/her photo?
No. Please have your child’s eyes open and looking straight ahead towards the camera.

What’s the best way to take a photo of a baby?
Lay your baby on his or her back on a plain white or off-white sheet. This will ensure your baby's head is supported and provide a plain background for the photo. Make certain there are no shadows on your baby’s face, especially if you take a picture from above with the baby lying down. You can also cover a car seat with a plain white or off-white sheet and take a picture of your child in the car seat. This will also ensure your baby’s head is supported.

May photos be taken with a digital camera?
Yes, you can use a digital camera. Most webcams and mobile phones cannot provide images of sufficient quality. Please refer to our Digital Image Requirements, if you decide to take a photo yourself.

Can I remove the red-eye from my photo?
It is acceptable to use the red-eye reduction option on your digital camera when you are taking the photo. However, you cannot use any photo editing tool to digitally remove the red-eye from your photo. In general, you are not allowed to digitally enhance or alter the photo to change your appearance in any way.

Are photos that are copied from recent driver licenses or other official documents acceptable?
Copied or digitally scanned photos of official documents will not be accepted. In addition, photos must not be digitally enhanced or altered to change your appearance in any way.

Are snapshots, magazine photos, mobile photos or photos from vending machine acceptable?
No. Snapshots, magazine photos, low-resolution vending machine or mobile phone photos, or full-length photographs are not acceptable.

Do I need to take a new photo if I recently dyed my hair a new color or grew a beard?
New photos are only required if your appearance has significantly changed from what is in your photo. Growing a beard or coloring your hair would not constitute a significant change. If you can still be identified from the photo in your current passport or visa application, you do not need to apply for a new passport or submit a new photo for your visa application. However, you may have to apply for a new passport or submit a new photo for your visa application if you have:

• Undergone significant facial surgery or trauma

• Added or removed numerous/large facial piercings or tattoos

• Undergone a significant amount of weight loss or gain

• Obtained a new gender identity

The acceptance of your photo is at the discretion of the U.S. passport agency where you apply for a passport or U.S. embassy or consulate where you apply for a visa.

Photo Upload Failure - There is an "X" instead of my photo on the DS-160 or DS-1648 application confirmation page.
That means the photo upload failed. Therefore, you should submit one printed photo meeting our requirements, along with the online DS-160 confirmation page, to the U.S. embassy or consulate at which you plan to apply for your nonimmigrant visa. Please contact the U.S. embassy or consulate where you are applying for specific instructions on how to do this. If the confirmation page includes a photo of you, then the photo upload was successful and no separate photo is required.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Passport Day in the USA

The U.S. government has selected Saturday, September 17 as Passport Day in order to help American citizens obtain their passports more easily.
The Department of State writes:

“On Saturday, September 17 only, apply for your U.S. passport at a Regional Passport Agency without an appointment. You will be able to apply for standard processing (4-6 weeks) or pay an additional $60 for Expedited processing (2-3 weeks, door-to-door). Passport Day in the USA also means passport-themed events for adults and children at Regional Passport Agencies and many passport Acceptance Facilities across the country in communities like yours. If you’ve been waiting to get your passport, this is the time!”
To look up Passport Day locations, please use this link:

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

USCIS Wants to Know What YOU Think!

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is seeking public comment on a proposed rule governing the Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) classification.

Currently, certain children present in the United States may be eligible for SIJ status if they are:

• Declared dependents of a juvenile court located in the United States; or

• Legally committed to, or placed in the custody of, an agency or department of the state in which the child is residing.

A child granted SIJ classification is immediately eligible to apply for permanent resident status.

The proposed rule, if promulgated as a final rule, would allow USCIS to grant SIJ classification to petitioners whose reunification with one or both parents is not possible because of abuse, neglect, abandonment or a similar basis found under state law. A final rule would implement statutorily mandated changes by:

• Revising the existing eligibility requirements to comport with the statute

• Revising consent requirements

• Further exempting SIJ adjustment-of-status applicants from several grounds of inadmissibility.

The proposed rule includes protections against aging-out, meaning that petitioners would still be eligible for SIJ status even if they reach the age of 21 while the petition is pending. Also, petitioners would be required to have a valid juvenile court order that is in effect at the time of filing. While this court order would be required to remain in effect through the time of adjudication, the proposed rule would exempt that requirement for individuals if their court order is no longer in effect at the time of adjudication because the petitioner’s age prevents continued dependency.

USCIS will accept public comments until Nov. 7, 2011, following today’s publication of the proposed rule in the Federal Register. Comments from individuals and agencies with direct experience handling special immigrant juvenile cases are particularly welcomed.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Deferred Enforced Departure Extended for Liberians

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced in August 2011 its intention to automatically extend employment authorization for Liberian nationals covered under Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) through March 31, 2012. USCIS’s announcement follows President Obama’s announcement of his decision to extend DED through March 31, 2013, for qualified Liberians and those persons without nationality who last habitually resided in Liberia. The six-month automatic extension of existing Employment Authorization Documents (EADs) will permit eligible Liberians to continue working while they file their applications for new EADs. The new EADs will cover the full 18 months of the DED extension.

Although DED was scheduled to end for Liberian nationals on Sept. 30, 2011, there are compelling foreign policy reasons to continue deferring enforced departure from the United States for eligible Liberian nationals presently living in the United States under the existing grant of DED for 18 additional months.

Certain individuals are not eligible for DED, including:

• Liberians who did not have Temporary Protected Status (TPS) on Sept. 30, 2007 and are therefore not covered under current DED;

• Certain criminals (e.g. aggravated felons and persons convicted of two misdemeanors);

• Persons subject to the mandatory bars to TPS; and

• Other ineligible persons as described in the President’s memorandum.

In addition to automatically extending the validity of EADs for Liberian nationals covered under DED, USCIS will publish a notice in the Federal Register with instructions for these individuals on how to obtain employment authorization for the remainder of the DED extension. Liberian nationals covered under DED will also need to include the Application for Employment Authorization, I-765, and a filing fee of $380, or a fee waiver request.

Friday, September 2, 2011

National Visa Center Questions

How Does the National Visa Center Fit into the U.S. Immigration Process?
After the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) approves your immigrant visa petition, the USCIS forwards your petition to the National Visa Center (NVC) in Portsmouth, NH for immigrant visa pre-processing at the correct time.  Immediate relative categories, do not have yearly numerical limits. However, family preference and employment immigrant categories have numerical limits each year; and therefore, wait times are involved, which can be lengthy, for processing to be able begin, as explained below.
USCIS Sent My Immigrant Visa Petition to the NVC. Now What Happens?
If your Priority Date meets the most recent Qualifying Date, the NVC will:
  1. Invoice you for your visa application fees
  2. Collect your visa application and supporting documentation
  3. Hold your visa petition until an interview can be scheduled with a consular officer at a U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate General abroad.
If your Priority Date DOES NOT meet the most recent Qualifying Date, the NVC will notify you and hold your petition until your Priority Date meets the most recent Qualifying Date. The Department of State updates the Qualifying Dates on a monthly basis.
How Do I Know if My Priority Date Meets the Most Recent Qualifying Date? And What Does That Mean?
If your Priority Date is earlier than the Qualifying Date for your visa class and your foreign state chargeability, your Priority Date meets the most recent Qualifying Date and your petition is ready to begin processing at the NVC. Learn more by reviewing the Visa Bulletin.
How Do I Know What My Priority Date Is?
The USCIS assigned your immigrant visa petition a Priority Date when you filed it with USCIS. If you are unsure of your Priority Date, you should refer to the Approval Notice that you received from the USCIS.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

DHS Publishes Business Transformation Regulation

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published the first in a series of regulations intended to promote the migration of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) benefit filings from a paper-based environment to an electronic one on August 29, 2011. The regulation is an important step toward modernizing how USCIS handles the more than 6 million benefit applications submitted annually.

Over the next several years, USCIS will roll out a secure, customer-friendly online account system that will enable and encourage customers to submit benefit requests and supporting documents electronically. This new Web-based system will greatly simplify the process of applying for immigration benefits. It will assign new customers a unique account which will enable them to access case status information, respond to USCIS requests for additional information, update certain personal information, and receive timely decisions and other communications from USCIS.

The new regulation revises more than 50 parts of DHS regulations contained in Title 8 of the Code of Federal Regulations. The regulation eliminates references to outdated USCIS benefit request forms and descriptions of paper-based procedures. In addition, the regulation removes numerous obsolete provisions of the regulations.

The public is invited to comment on this regulation and offer suggestions on further improvements. Comments must be received by Oct. 28, 2011. The new regulation will become effective on Nov. 28, 2011.