How to Apply for a Green Card as a Crime Victim
While there are various ways for immigrants to obtain citizenship in the U.S., a green card is one of the most commonly sought paths to obtaining lawful permanent residence.
Green card holders, also known as lawful permanent residents (LPRs), are authorized to work and live permanently in the United States. There are numerous benefits to having a green card, including:
- The opportunity to apply for naturalization after 5 years
- Eligibility for Medicare and other government aid
- Eligibility for federal student loans
- The opportunity to attend a U.S. university
- Little to no risk of deportation or removal
- The option to sponsor relatives to get a green card
- The ability to travel in/out of the U.S. with ease
As most immigrants already know, navigating the complexities of the U.S. immigration system is no small feat. Even after enduring extensive wait times, many deserving applicants are met with rejection—often with little to no explanation—after waiting months or years for their green card application to be processed.
To successfully petition for a green card, it’s always best to consult with a trusted immigration attorney who can help you avoid costly mistakes and follow USCIS processes meticulously to obtain the outcome you deserve.
Who Is Eligible for a Green Card?
There are numerous ways that immigrants may obtain lawful permanent residence in the U.S. as green card holders, including:
- Through family. Green card holders can sponsor a family member's immigration to the U.S. and help them obtain a green card.
- Through employment. Immigrants may apply for a green card through qualifying U.S. employers.
- As an asylee or refugee. Immigrants may be eligible for a green card if they were granted asylee or refugee status at least 1 year prior to applying.
- Through special immigrant status. This may include religious workers, international broadcasters, and Afghanistan or Iraq nationals.
- As a victim of abuse. Immigrants who are victims of substantial mental or physical abuse may be eligible for a green card. This extends to VAWA self-petitioners, special immigrant juveniles, or abuse victims under the Cuban Adjustment Act.
- As a victim of a qualifying crime. Victims of qualifying crimes may be eligible for a green card permitted they agree to assist with the U.S. investigation and/or prosecution of the criminal activity.
Despite having multiple avenues to become a green card holder, the path to success is often cluttered with legal obstacles and setbacks. As you can imagine, this can lead to mounting frustrations with green card petitioners.
For victims of crime and abuse, the process of becoming a lawful permanent resident can be all the more daunting, as their safety can very well hang in the balance.
U Nonimmigrant Status as a Crime Victim
To qualify for a green card, crime victims must first obtain U nonimmigrant status by applying for a U visa. They can then apply for a green card after3 years.
The path to naturalization for victims of qualifying crimes progresses as follows:
- Apply for a U visa.
- Apply for a green card after 3 years in U nonimmigrant status.
- Apply for naturalization after 5 years with a green card.
Congress created the U nonimmigrant status in 2000 to encourage crime victims to come forward without fear of deportation or removal. Keep in mind that a U visa is not obtainable for every crime; rather, it is only available for victims of qualifying crimes.
Examples of qualifying criminal offenses under the USCIS include (but aren’t limited to):
- Sexual exploitation
- Female genital mutilation
- Obstruction of justice
- Domestic violence
- Sexual assault
- Felony assault
U Visa Eligibility Requirements
Crime victims wishing to obtain a U visa must meet certain USCIS eligibility requirements. Petitioners must support their claim with appropriate documentation and/or additional evidence to show that:
1. The petitioner has certification from law enforcement or another certifying agency.
The documentation must confirm that: 1) the applicant is the victim of a qualifying crime according to USCIS guidelines, 2) that the crime occurred within the U.S., 3) that the applicant has helpful information pertaining to the crime in question; and 4) that the applicant is willing to continue assisting with the U.S. investigation and/or prosecution pertaining to the criminal proceedings.
2. The petitioner suffered substantial physical or mental harm as a result of the crime.
U visa petitioners must include proof that the harm they suffered was substantial. They must also show that the USCIS grounds of inadmissibility do not apply to them. These are certain conditions that make an individual inadmissible to the U.S. under the law.
Under USCIS regulations, grounds for inadmissibility include:
- Inadmissibility due to health. Petitioners are required to undergo a physical with a government-appointed physician. If the applicant is determined to have a communicable disease, is unable or unwilling to receive mandatory vaccinations, or whose health is otherwise declared unfit, the petitioner may be inadmissible to the U.S.
- Inadmissibility due to criminal reasons. A criminal record can automatically disqualify non-citizens who have been convicted of qualifying crimes. While not every crime results in inadmissibility, crimes involving moral turpitude (CIMT) and certain other offenses can result in the offender being inadmissible to the U.S.
- Inadmissibility due to national security reasons. If a petitioner is determined to be a threat to national security, they may be deemed inadmissible to the U.S.
- Inadmissibility due to the likelihood of becoming a public charge. If USCIS determines that a petitioner is likely to be primarily dependent on government assistance, they may be inadmissible to the U.S.
- Inadmissibility due to lack of labor certification. Petitioners may be inadmissible to live and work in the U.S. unless 1) their employment will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of U.S. workers similarly employed, and 2) there is an insufficient amount of workers who are willing, qualified, and able to perform the work.
- Inadmissibility due to fraud or misrepresentation. An immigrant may be inadmissible to the U.S. if they falsify any part of their application, evidence, or testimony. For example, when applying for a marriage-based green card, the USCIS will conduct a thorough investigation to deter immigrants from using a “sham wedding” to gain U.S. residence.
- Inadmissibility due to prior removals or unlawful presence. An individual may be declared inadmissible if they aren’t in the U.S. lawfully, meaning that there is a current or prior removal order that makes the immigrant ineligible for a U visa or other form of U.S. residence.
Steps to Apply for a Green Card as a Crime Victim
To successfully get your green card as a crime victim, you must first obtain a U visa. After obtaining U nonimmigrant status, petitioners can take the following steps to apply for their green card through the USCIS:
- Ensure you meet eligibility requirements. It’s important for petitioners to ensure they meet all USCIS criteria. Applicants must have lawfully resided in the U.S. for a consecutive 3-year period while in U nonimmigrant status and continue to be lawfully present until the USCIS responds to their application.
- File an Application to Register Permanent Residence or Status. Petitioners must complete and file Form I-485 with the appropriate evidence. Necessary evidence can vary based on an immigrant’s unique circumstances. For a more detailed overview of what evidence to include, consider reviewing this USCIS resource that breaks down evidence types by immigrant category.
Petitioners mustn't include original documents with their application. Applicants must only include copies of all legal documents (such as birth or marriage certificates). Petitioners should also ensure that all non-English documentation is translated into English before submitting their application and corresponding evidence.
Passionate Advocacy for Immigrants & Their Families
In today’s climate, immigrants and their families are forced to grapple with so many uncertainties. Sadly, many deserving immigrants are met with rejection after applying for a green card or other means of lawful U.S. residence, often with little to no explanation for the denial.
Whether you’re facing a removal order, filing a motion to reopen or appeal, or simply trying to reunite with your family in the U.S., our experienced immigration attorneys at Hubbs Law, P.A. are here to advocate on your behalf and fight for the legal outcome you rightfully deserve.
Our firm has a proven track record of providing dependable legal representation tailored to each client's unique needs. Our passion for justice and extensive experience with immigration law empower our Miami lawyers to treat each client with the personalized care they deserve while fighting fiercely to achieve a favorable resolution in court.
If you’re ensnared in an immigration or USCIS dispute, it’s essential to consult with a skilled Miami immigration attorney who can defend your freedom. Call (305) 570-4802 today to schedule a free consultation.