Record Numbers of U-Visa Holders in U.S.; Are They Legitimate?

Published on August 24th, 2012

For the third consecutive year, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it has reached the statutory maximum of 10,000 petitions for U-visas. First issued in 2008, the U-visa is more informally known as the “victim visa” which has its roots in the 1994 Violence against Women Reauthorization Act (VAWA). For more information about the U-visa, go to the USCIS “Victims of Criminal Activity” webpage here. And read my 2010 CAPS U-visa blog here.

In theory, U-visas are issued to alleged crime victims who have—again allegedly— suffered substantial mental and/or physical abuse. They receive their visas in exchange for providing information to law enforcement that will enable officers to prosecute abuse related crimes. An astonishing 61,000 victims and their families have received U-visas since the program began. In case you’re wonder how 10,000 visas issued over three years becomes 61, 000 instead of 30,000, you’ve forgotten about the U-2, U-3 and U-4 visas given to victims’ spouses, parents and children.

Like all the other non-immigrant visas, the U offers unlimited opportunity for fraud. The only visa categories that may rival it as a fraud vehicle are the K-1 fiancée and the H-1B which although normally considered to be issued to the best and brightest high tech workers but in fact is also given to night club dancers and used car salesmen.

What the U-visa boils down to is that foreign-born residents who can convincingly persuade government officials that they have been abused or tortured are likely on their way to permanent residency and citizenship that in turn will generate chain migration. But who among us, including trained federal investigators, really knows what happens behind closed doors?

To advocates of reduced immigration and lower population, the U-Visa represents a unique set of challenges. Domestic abuse, sexual slavery and sexually related crimes are abhorrent. Americans are unanimous in their opinion that everything necessary must be done to end it.

But the underground lobby of immigration lawyers and advocates is constantly at work to increase the numbers of victims and lobby to hike the 10,000 annual cap. Nonprofit organizations provide immigration assistance, financial counseling and free legal advice—fine for those who really need it but an inducement to commit fraud for those who don’t. [Domestic Abuse Fraud: It’s Rarely Suspected and Rarely Detected, by Julie Bosman, New York Times, October 22, 2009]

All signals from Washington D.C. point to the probability that advocates will influence legislators to increase the 10,000 cap.

USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas thinks that:

“The U-visa is an important tool aiding law enforcement to bring criminals to justice. At the same time, we are able to provide immigration protection to victims of crime and their families. Both benefits are in the interest of the public we serve.”

Accordingly, in recent years USCIS has expanded its public education and outreach effort through partnerships with law enforcement agencies and service providers. USCIS officers have traveled to more than 40 major cities, including Denver, New York City, Newark and San Antonio. Upon arrival, they’ll train federal, state and local law enforcement agencies and immigrant-serving organizations on protections available to individuals who are victims of human trafficking, domestic violence and other serious crimes.

USCIS has invested a small fortune to recruit as many U-visa candidates as it can find even if they may not be legitimate.

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