USA: U Visa Process Improved, But Education Still Needed
Wednesday, September 30, 2009 2:55 PM

In an effort to combat human trafficking, the U.S. Congress passed the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act in 2000. The Act authorizes U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (U.S.C.I.S.) to issue up to 10,000 U visas per year to immigrants who are crime victims. Recipients are given temporary legal status and work eligibility in the US for no more than 4 years with the opportunity to qualify for permanent resident status.

The U visa is intended to encourage immigrant victims of trafficking, incest, kidnapping, female genital mutilation, and domestic violence to seek help from the police without fear of being deported.

After the Act’s passage in 2000, U.S.C.I.S. issued far fewer U visas than the amount allotted, granting no U visas at all between 2000 and 2007 and less than 100 U visas between 2008 and 2009. Since President Obama took office in January 2009, U.S.C.I.S. has been taking measures to speed up the U visa process and reduce the backlog of U visa applications.  4000 U visas have been issued under the new administration, and thousands more U visa applications are under review.

Despite this improvement, some police departments have not been receptive to helping immigrants who are victims of crimes file for their U visas. Because victims of crimes need the signature certifying cooperation with the police investigating the crime, this lack of cooperation greatly hinders the ability to access the visa.

Deputy Detective Kevin Bickford is a member of the Oregon Human Trafficking Task Force, which works with immigrants who are victims of crimes. Bickford says that “U visas are invaluable to his work of unmasking and prosecuting human traffickers because it allows him to show victims that he is on their side” (Women’s eNews). But he admits that many law enforcement officials are not aware of the U visa or do not support it, arguing that immigrants could fabricate crimes in order to be granted temporary residency. Bickford says that he has never met anyone who invented crime stories to access a U Visa, adding that “the more education you have for law enforcement on the U visa the better it'll be down the road” (Women’s eNews).

Compiled from: Nadia Berenstein, "U Visas Speed Up for Immigrants Who Flee Abuse," Women’s eNews (21 September 2009); Nadia Berenstein, “U Visa Recipients Look for Better Enforcement,” Women’s eNews (24 September 2009).