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May 17, 2024

What are the grounds of inadmissibility? How can they affect me?

Most people who want to enter the U.S. or get legal status in the U.S. must show they are not prohibited (barred) by a long set of rules called the “grounds of inadmissibility.”1 This is also true for U visa petitioners. These rules are very complicated and your lawyer will need to know what the immigration courts and federal courts have said about them in order to understand whether any of the inadmissibility grounds may apply to you.

If you run into problems with one or more of the grounds of inadmissibility, you can apply for a waiver with your U visa petition. Then, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will consider the pros and cons of your waiver application and decide whether or not to excuse (“waive”) the inadmissibility ground(s) by granting you a waiver. A waiver can be granted if “it is in the national or public interest” do to so.2 USCIS denies many waivers, which means it also denies U visas for many petitioners asking for waivers. This is one main reason you must work with an immigration lawyer or advocate who knows about U visas.

1 To read the list of inadmissibility grounds, go to INA § 212 on our Selected Federal Statutes page
2 INA § 212(d)(14); 8 CFR § 212.17(b)(1)

If I didn't include my family members on my U visa petition, can I include them when I apply for lawful permanent residence?

Although it is usually better to file for U visas for your family members at the time that you file your own petition, if you didn’t do that, you may be able to include them when you file for lawful permanent residence, regardless of whether they are in the U.S. or abroad.1

In other words, when you apply for your green card, you can file a form that would eventually allow your family members to apply for their own green cards, as well.

The process for your family members to get green cards through this process is very different than if you include them at the time that you file your own U visa petition in the following ways:

Forms: When you include your family members as derivatives at the time that you file your own U visa petition, you file Form I-918 Supplement A for each family member, along with any other forms they may need, such as the waiver of inadmissibility (Form I-192) and the application for employment authorization (Form I-765). However, if you are including your family members when you apply for permanent residence, you file Form I-929 for each family member. They would not need to file any more forms until the Form I-929 is approved.

Timing and Process: You can only file Form I-929 at the same time or after you have applied for permanent residence. In addition, you can file Form I-929 after USCIS has approved your permanent residence application. USCIS will not approve Form I-929 until after you have become a permanent resident. Once the Form I-929 is approved, your family members can immediately file their own application to become permanent residents, if they are in the United States. If they are outside the U.S. when the Form I-929 is approved, they will need to request permission from the U.S. consulate to enter the United States as lawful permanent residents.

In a Form I-929, you have to show the following:

  • Qualifying relationship: First, you can only file Form I-929 for your spouse and children who are unmarried and under 21. If you are under 21, you can also file for your parents. Unlike when you file a U visa petition, you cannot include your siblings, even if you are under 21 and they are unmarried and under 18. Second, your children must remain under 21 and unmarried until USCIS has approved their applications for lawful permanent residence, unlike with a U visa where they have to be under 21 and unmarried at the time of the petition only. If your children are outside the U.S. when you file Form I-929, they must enter the U.S. with their visa before turning 21. Unfortunately, there is no way to know how long USCIS will take to review the applications, and the process can take years. Unfortunately, if they turn 21 before they complete the process, they will lose their eligibility to become a lawful permanent resident (get their green card) through the I-929 process.
  • Extreme Hardship: You must also show that you or your family member will suffer “extreme hardship” if your family member is not permitted to enter or remain in the United States.2 USCIS looks at many things to decide whether you have shown “extreme hardship,” such as:
  • the type and degree of the physical or mental abuse suffered as a result of being a victim of crime;
  • the effect on you or your family member of losing access to the U.S. courts or criminal justice system;
  • the probability that the perpetrator’s family, friends, or others acting on behalf of the perpetrator in the home country would harm you or your children;
  • the need for social, medical, mental health, or other supportive services for victims of crime that are not available or accessible in the home country;
  • in domestic violence cases, whether there are laws and social practices in the home country that punish you or your children because you have been victims of domestic violence or have taken steps to leave an abusive home;
  • the perpetrator’s ability to travel to the home country and the ability and willingness of authorities in the home country to protect you or your children; and
  • your age at the time of entry into the U.S. and at the time you apply for lawful permanent residence. For example, if you are a child and are applying for your parent, you may be able to show that you would suffer extreme hardship if your parent is not allowed to remain in the U.S. with you due to your young age.3

If there are other reasons why you or your family members would suffer extreme hardship, you can each describe those in your personal statements and/or provide other documentation. As always, your and your family members’ personal statements will be crucial towards building your proof of extreme hardship.

1 INA § 245(m)(3)
2 INA § 245(m)(3); 8 CFR § 245.24(h)(1)(iv)
3 8 CFR § 245.24(h)(1)(iv)(A)-(G)

Can I apply for a U visa from another country? What are the obstacles?

You are not required to be in the U.S. to qualify for a U visa, although the crime must have taken place within the U.S., or the crime violated a U.S. federal law that specifically allows the U.S. to prosecute crimes committed in another country.1 However, it is very hard to successfully apply for U visa status from outside of the country, mainly because you will need the help of an attorney who knows U visas and most of those attorneys are in the U.S. You may also have difficulty proving that you are helping in the investigation or prosecution of the crime from outside the U.S.

If you apply from abroad, you will be eligible to apply for a work permit only after your U visa petition is granted and you enter the U.S. with a U visa.2

When USCIS approves a U visa petition, you don’t get an actual visa that you can use for travel. So, if your U visa petition is approved while you are outside of the U.S., you will need to apply for an actual visa at a U.S. consulate or embassy to enter the U.S.3

If you are already in the U.S. and planning to leave and apply for a U visa from another country, please talk to an immigration attorney before leaving the U.S. In addition to new forms that you may have to file, you probably cannot come back into the U.S. until your U visa is approved.

Before you leave, or if you are already abroad, your attorney should consult with a national organization with expertise in U visas such as ASISTA on this process or another national organization on our National Organizations - Immigration page. Many consulates are still unfamiliar with the U visa and may give inaccurate information to those seeking a U visa from abroad.

1 USCIS website – Victims of Criminal Activity: U Nonimmigrant Status
2 8 CFR § 214.14(c)(7), (f)(7)
3 8 CFR § 214.14(c)(5)(i)(B)

I think I may be eligible. Should I go to my local USCIS (Immigration) office?

It is never a good idea to go to a USCIS (Immigration) office on your own. Only two specific offices of USCIS called the Vermont Service Center and the Nebraska Service Center have the power to decide U visa cases and they do not do any in-person interviews, so there is no reason to go there in person. Most local USCIS officers have not been trained on U visas and may not give accurate information. If you go to a local USCIS office, or any other government office or agency to request a U visa, you may end up in deportation proceedings or in detention.

In all cases, you should consult with an immigration expert with experience in U visas. An attorney can help you figure out if you are likely to qualify for this or any other form of immigration relief, and if there is a risk of being put in removal proceedings (being deported). To find help, please go to the National Organizations - Immigration page. You can also find the contact information for general legal services organizations, not immigration-specific, and referral services to private attorneys on our Finding a Lawyer page.

Can I travel outside of the U.S. if my U visa petition is approved?

It is extremely important that you talk to an immigration lawyer with experience in U visa status before traveling because there are many risks:

First, if you were granted U visa status in the U.S., and you leave the country, you will have to go to a consulate to get an actual U visa to re-enter the U.S. You are not automatically granted this visa, which is a sticker in your passport needed for traveling, when you are approved for U visa status. It is very hard to get the visa from the consulate without an attorney who knows about U visas.

If you leave the U.S., you may need to wait outside of the U.S. for a long time before you can obtain the visa to travel back to the U.S. Once you have U visa status, if you leave the U.S., you should never re-enter the U.S. illegally. If you come back into the U.S. without permission, you could be detained, deported, and/or criminally charged and you would risk not being able to get back your U visa status.

Before you leave, or if you are abroad, your attorney should consult with a national organization with expertise in U visas, such as ASISTA, on this process, since many consulates are still unfamiliar with the U visa and may give inaccurate information to those processing abroad. Other national organizations can be found on our National Organizations - Immigration page.

Second, you need to be aware of the “continuous physical presence” requirement in order to get lawful permanent residence. Being outside of the U.S. for more than 90 days at one time or more than 180 days in combined trips may prevent you from getting lawful permanent residence.1

Third, if you leave the U.S., you may trigger new grounds of inadmissibility. If so, you’d have to file for a new waiver before you can get a U visa to get back into the U.S.

Fourth, if you already have U visa status and have already filed an application for lawful permanent residence, you must ask USCIS for “advance parole” before leaving the U.S.2 “Advance parole” is permission from the government to travel while you are waiting to get your green card and you will need your attorney’s help to request it. If you don’t get advance parole before leaving the U.S., USCIS will deny your application for lawful permanent residence.

Finally, if you are abroad and come into the U.S. with a visitor’s visa or another kind of visa after your U visa petition was approved, you may not be able to switch to U visa status once you’re in the U.S. This is true whether you are in the U.S. when your U visa is granted and you leave and re-enter without an official visa from the consulate or if you are outside the U.S. when USCIS grants your U visa but you enter the U.S. without an official visa from the consulate. Once USCIS has approved your U visa petition, you may only enter the U.S. with an official visa from the consulate or with advance parole if you have filed your application for lawful permanent residence. If you try to come into the U.S. without permission, you may be detained, deported, charged with a federal crime, and you could lose your U visa status.

For all of these reasons, it is extremely important that you talk to an immigration lawyer with experience in U visas before traveling to determine if you can safely travel outside of the U.S. The attorney should be able to determine if any of these risks apply to you by working with one of the national organizations with expertise in U visas, such as ASISTA. To find the contact information of other organizations working in the area of immigration law, please see the national organizations listed on our National Organizations - Immigration page.

1 INA § 245(m)(2); 8 CFR § 245.24(a)(1)
2 8 CFR § 245.24(j)