Humanitarian Forms of Relief

U.S. immigration law provides three possible visas allowing victims of crimes to stay in or even come to the U.S. and testify or otherwise assist in law enforcement efforts:

  • the “U” visa for victims of serious crimes
  • the “T” visa for victims of human trafficking, and
  • the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) self-petition for abused spouses and certain parents and children of U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

If you are the victim of a violent or serious crime, determining which of these immigration categories is the best match for you given your circumstances can be difficult. This is especially true as you might qualify for more than one of these visas. For example, because human trafficking is a qualifying criminal activity for both the U and T visa categories, you might be eligible for either one.


Additionally, if you are the victim of domestic violence, you may be eligible for either a U visa or the VAWA self-petition. Both forms of relief provide a path to U.S. permanent residence (a green card). This article discusses when it is best to apply for a U visa and when you would be better served by filing the VAWA self-petition with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

U visa

In order to apply for a U visa using Form I-918, Petition for U Nonimmigrant Status, you must meet the following criteria and provide substantial evidence to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS):

  • You must have been a victim of a “qualifying criminal activity,” and this crime must have occurred in the United States or violated U.S. law. Indirect and bystander victims are also eligible to apply in certain circumstances. For example, a murder victim obviously cannot benefit from a U visa, but another person who witnessed the murder or a close family member who was impacted by it may have information that is helpful to law enforcement.
  • In the course of this criminal activity, you must have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse.
  • You have useful information about this criminal activity (or if under age 16, your parent, guardian or “next friend” such as a counselor or social worker can provide this information for you).
  • You (or your parent, guardian, or next friend) have been or will be “helpful” to law enforcement in order to bring the perpetrator of this crime to justice.
  • You are admissible to the United States or you are applying for a waiver using Form I-192, Application for Advance Permission to Enter as a Non-Immigrant.

You can apply for a U visa from within the U.S. or abroad at a U.S. consulate. Be sure to consult with an advocate familiar with U visas or an experienced immigration attorney who can help you with your application. Keep reading for more information on what evidence is necessary to prove that you qualify for a U visa


VAWA is a means for battered and abused spouses (and certain parents and children) to obtain a green card without the cooperation of the U.S. citizen or permanent resident relative who is abusing them. Despite being authorized by the Violence Against Women Act, men and women may both self-petition.

You may qualify if:

  • your spouse is a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident and he or she battered or abused you or your child (under 21 years old)
  • your parent or stepparent is a U.S. citizen or legal permanent and he or she battered or abused you (and you are unmarried and under 21), or
  • your adult child (over 21 years old) is a U.S. citizen and he or she battered or abused you.

However, if you are applying as a battered or abused spouse (or a spouse whose child was abused), you must:

  • have been or be married to a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident and have lived together at some point, and
  • if you divorced, you must be able to show a connection between the divorce and the abuse you suffered, and
  • your marriage must have been entered into in good faith.

Remember that:

You may apply for benefits under the Violence Against Women Act even if you are a man.

Your abuser will not find out that you are applying for immigration benefits.

Psychological and emotional abuse can be used as the basis for your claim.

T visa

Human trafficking, also known as trafficking in persons, is a form of modern-day slavery in which traffickers typically lure individuals with false promises of employment and a better life. Victims of severe forms of human trafficking are provided relief under U.S. immigration law by the Victims of Trafficking in Persons (T) nonimmigrant visa. This status allows victims of human trafficking to remain in the United States to assist in investigations or prosecutions of human trafficking violators.

Foreign citizens seeking T-1 nonimmigrant status must be physically present in the United States already, due to human trafficking. Therefore, U.S. Embassies and Consulates abroad (outside the United States) do not issue T-1 visas, but may issue qualifying family members T (derivative) visas.


Asylum allows foreign nationals to remain lawfully in the U.S. indefinitely and, after one year, apply for legal permanent residence. Generally an asylum application must be filed within one year of the applicant’s last entry into the U.S. –

An asylum seeker must prove that he or she has suffered past persecution (see below) and/or has a well-founded fear of future persecution based on one of five grounds or a combination of grounds: Race Religion Nationality Membership in a particular social group Political opinion.

The asylum application consists of: Immigration Form I-589. A declaration (detailed personal statement by the applicant) Corroborating documents (medical reports, police reports, letters from witnesses, etc.) to back up the applicant’s story.

Stay of Removal

A Stay of Removal is one of the few forms of relief available to immigrants who have deportation orders and are currently are detained, as well as those that were released on an Order of Supervision.   An ICE officer will consider the equities of the alien’s situation. Does he or she have ties to the community? How serious are any criminal and immigration violations? If the Stay of Removal is granted, the individual is typically permitted to stay in the US for a period of one year and may apply for a work permit. He or she may renew his request for a Stay every time it expires.