By Nadine A. Brown, Esq.
THE SELF PETITION, S, T AND U VISAS – FOR VICTIMS OF VIOLENCE
Many are unaware that besides the regular visa quota system based on family reunification or work based visas derived from the need for foreign workers, there are about four (4) visa categories that deal with victims of violence that are available in the US Immigration system. These include the Battered Spouse self petition, the S, T and U Visas.
The Battered Spouse self petition is available for either male or female persons, children and/or adults, who have been victimized by a US citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident immediate family member. The applicant must demonstrate family violence including extreme emotional cruelty or physical battery to whatever extent through the use of documentary evidence and at times eye witness declarations. An approval of this type of application may result in a Green Card and then citizenship after three years as a Lawful Permanent Resident. There is also relief available for individuals in this category if they have been divorced from an abuser within two years of applying.
Secondly, is the S visa which is generally reserved for individuals cooperating with law enforcement agencies at any level. These individuals must work closely with law enforcement to apprehend or prosecute criminals or criminal syndicates in the United States. The S visa is few and far between and is reserved generally for victims of crimes but is more widely used for informants in drug and organized crime syndicates. This is known in lay person terms as a “snitch” visa. These visas must be initiated by the law enforcement agency handling the case and may result in Lawful Permanent Residency Status.
Thirdly, there is the T visa, which has been in increasing use for victims of trafficking usually in the underground sex industry but has also been used for victims of immigration smugglers. This visa is also generally initiated by a law enforcement agency such as the US Attorneys Office. Applicants work with a certifying law enforcement agency to testify against and are chief in apprehending smugglers or “coyotes” who most often extort money from immigrants who they assist in getting to the United States.
Lastly, there is the U visa which is for victims of crime in general. These individuals may be victims of family violence who are NOT married to a US citizen or lawful permanent resident. They may be victims of a non family crime but who are working with law enforcement to apprehend criminal immigrants or dangerous criminals. These individuals may, with the help of a certifying law enforcement agency which can include a state attorneys office or police department, obtain work authorization, permanent resident and then citizenship after completing the necessary application process.
The US Immigration system imperfect as it is, tries to be sensitive to the fact that many immigrants are victimized because of their status as immigrants legal or illegal or their relationship to others who brought them to the United States. Thus, they have created some visa mechanisms to help thwart the wide victimization of individuals coming to the United States and hope that many who are in the shadows because of fear recognize that there is some help available.