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How much abuse is enough to qualify for U Visa?

Recently updated on May 8th, 2024 at 12:30 am

Immigration U Visa is a type of visa that the immigration department of the U.S. (USCIS) awards to a certain number of individuals who are victims of certain types of crimes. These visas are designed to allow non-U.S. citizens to legally reside in the U.S. for a set period of time. In order to succeed in receiving a U Visa, you must show the USCIS that you have suffered “substantial” physical or mental abuse because of the crime you have experienced. However, U Visa law does not clearly answer what kind of abuse or how much serious abuse is sufficient to be “substantial.” Thus, the USCIS will decide whether the abuse you have experience is “substantial” or not. When the USCIS making decision, it will look at the whole circumstance you have faced. For example, the USCIS will consider what kind of abuse you have suffered?; were you a victim of serious crime?; was your injury serious?; how long have you been suffered?; was your injury long term or permanent injury? No single question can be more important than other questions, and additional questions can be added if the USCIS needs more information. 

To help you to figure out whether you have experienced “substantial” abuse for a U Visa, a survey result can be a starting point. A survey shows that among 4,034 of U Visa recipients between 2008 to 2011, 45.9% of them were victims of domestic violence, and 27.24% were victims of sex crimes such as rape or sexual assault. 

Also, U Visa recipients’ true stories can be good examples: a woman had suffered at the hands of her husband for 20 years; a woman had been physically abused and threatened by her husband for several months; a woman was repeatedly raped by her husband for about 8 weeks, and became pregnant, and was forced to have abortion; a woman was burned with cigarettes, beaten with a belt, and sexually assaulted at the hands of the couple for whom she worked as a domestic servant; a woman was assaulted by a man, and the man murdered her sister, then, the woman was traumatized by these events. 

  • What kind of suffering is qualified? Mental and emotional, but not physical, suffering is also qualified?

            What does mean by suffering? Does this only mean physical injuries? Immigration law also includes victims who has suffered mental abuse for U Visa.  That means that the USCIS must consider non-physical harm as well. In addition, the USCIS makes it clearer by adding that mental abuse can be shown by loss or diminishment of the emotional or psychological soundness of the victims. For example, you might be too traumatized to do even basic things, or to look people in the eye, or to trust people. 

            However, if you have suffered only non-physical harm, such as mental, emotional, or psychological, it may be harder to prove that you have suffered. Some examples to show your mental or emotional suffering are that you have seen a therapist because you have been anxious or depressed; you have been taking medicine; you have had trouble eating or sleeping and so on. Also, you can show by letters from your friends, family, neighbors, or religious leaders explaining that they have seen that your attitude has changed, or you have been telling them about your anxiety and depression and so on. 

  • I was abused abroad. Can I apply for U Visa? 

            Probably not. When the U.S. law makers made U Visa law, they thought two purposes. One, U Visa is designed to protect and assist non-citizens who are victims of certain types of crimes and in need of aid from emergency circumstances. Two, U Visa is to encourage non-U.S. citizens to report crimes to the police and to cooperate with the U.S. justice system. In other words, the U.S. law makers wanted to help now-citizens who can strengthen law enforcement’s ability to find, search, take legal action, and punish serious crimes in the U.S. Thus, U Visa law expects at least a part of the crime has to have happened in the U.S.. 

            For example, a victim of rape was denied for her U Visa application because her rape had not occurred in the U.S. The applicant was from Guatemala. She was raped in Guatemala by a man she thought was going to help her to enter the U.S. She escaped after the rape and entered the U.S. on her won. Even though she had been helpful to the police and government agencies in the investigation and/or prosecution of her rape, her application was denied. The reason is that because the crime had not occurred in the U.S. or its territories or possession, the U.S. does not have power to investigate or take the criminal to its courts. Thus, at least one incident of abuse has to happen in the U.S. to apply for a U Vasa.


  1. 8 CFR 214.14: Electronic Code of Federal Regulations. (April 9, 2012). From
  • Immigrants’ Right Clinic, Getting a U-Visa: Immigration help for victims of crime, Stanford Law School (March 2012). From ttps://
  • Shukhrat v. Sec’y United States Dep’t of Homeland Sec., 634 Fed. Appx. 880 (3d Cir. 2015). From
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