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Asylum is reserved for individuals who have suffered persecution at the hands of their government, or a group the government cannot control. An applicant must demonstrate that they have been the victim of past persecution, or that they have a well-founded fear of future persecution, on account of their:
- political opinion, or
- membership in a particular social group.
To obtain asylum, you must be physically present in the United States. You may apply for asylum status regardless of how you arrived in the United States, or your current immigration status. Applications for asylum must be submitted within one year of last arrival in the United States, unless you can demonstrate:
- changed circumstances that materially affect your eligibility for asylum, or extraordinary circumstances relating to the delay in filing, and
- you filed within a reasonable amount of time given those circumstances.
Asylum is requested on form I-589, Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal. There is no fee to apply for asylum. Applicants may include spouses and unmarried children under 21.
The T visa is reserved for victims of severe forms of human trafficking who have assisted law enforcement in an investigation or prosecution of human trafficking in the United States.
Under federal law, a “severe form of trafficking” is:
- Sex trafficking: when someone recruits, harbors, transports, provides, solicits, patronizes, or obtains a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act, where the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or the person being induced to perform such act is under 18 years of age; or
- Labor trafficking: when someone recruits, harbors, transports, provides, or obtains a person for labor or services through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.
You may be eligible for T nonimmigrant status if you:
- are, or were, a victim of a severe form of human trafficking;
- are in the United States, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, or at a port of entry due to trafficking;
- comply with any reasonable request from a law enforcement agency for assistance in the investigation or prosecution of human trafficking (unless you are under the age of 18, or you are unable to cooperate due to physical or psychological trauma);
- demonstrate that you would suffer extreme hardship involving unusual and severe harm if you were removed from the United States; and
- are admissible to the United States (If you are not admissible, you may be eligible to apply for a waiver).
Once approved, a T visa is valid for up to 4 years. T nonimmigrants are eligible for employment authorization and certain federal and state benefits and services.
Certain family members may also be eligible for T nonimmigrant status. If approved, a T visa beneficiary may be eligible to apply for legal permanent residency after 3 years in T nonimmigrant status, or once the investigation or prosecution of the trafficking is complete, whichever occurs earlier.
The U visa is awarded to victims of certain crimes who have suffered mental or physical abuse and are helpful to law enforcement, or government officials, in the investigation or prosecution of criminal activity.
You may be eligible for a U nonimmigrant visa if you:
- are the victim of qualifying criminal activity
- have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of having been a victim of criminal activity
- have information about the criminal activity (exceptions are made for victims under the age of 16)
- were helpful, are helpful, or are likely to be helpful to law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of the crime; and
- the crime occurred in the United States, or violated U.S. laws.
Qualifying criminal activity for eligibility under a U visa includes:
- Abusive Sexual Contact
- Domestic Violence
- False Imprisonment
- Female Genital Mutilation
- Felonious Assault
- Fraud in Foreign Labor Contracting
- Involuntary Servitude
- Obstruction of Justice
- Sexual Assault
- Sexual Exploitation
- Slave Trade
- Witness Tampering
- Unlawful Criminal Restraint
- Other Related Crimes (Includes any similar activity where the elements of the crime are substantially similar. Also includes attempt, conspiracy, or solicitation to commit any of the above and other related crimes.)
To apply for a U visa, an applicant must submit:
- form I-918, Petition for U Nonimmigrant Status
- form I-918, Supplement B, U Nonimmigrant Status Certification, which must be signed by an authorized official of the certifying law enforcement agency. The official must confirm that you were helpful, are currently being helpful, or will likely be helpful in the investigation or prosecution of the case; and
- a personal statement describing the criminal activity of which you were a victim.
You may also apply for a U visa if you are outside the United States. Once approved, a U visa is valid for up to 4 years. However, under certain circumstances, extensions are permitted.
Certain family members may also be eligible for U nonimmigrant status. If approved, a U visa beneficiary may be eligible to apply for legal permanent residency after 3 years of continuous physical presence in the United States. U visa holders are eligible for work authorization.
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) provides that both women and men may be eligible to become lawful permanent residents if they can establish they have been the victims of battery or extreme cruelty committed by a:
- U.S. citizen spouse or former spouse;
- U.S. citizen parent;
- U.S. citizen son or daughter;
- lawful permanent resident spouse, or former spouse; or
- a legal permanent resident parent.
You may self-petition under VAWA without your abusive family member’s knowledge or consent. If your petition is approved, and you meet other eligibility requirements, you may be eligible to apply to become a lawful permanent resident. Moreover, the inadmissibility grounds of public charge and entry without inspection do not apply to VAWA applicants.
Temporary protected status (TPS) is granted to foreign nationals who are unable to return to their country due to unsafe conditions. However, certain individuals without nationality of the designated country, who last resided in the designated country, may also be granted TPS. TPS is granted to individuals who are already in the United States.
The Secretary of Homeland Security designates TPS for certain countries due to the following temporary conditions:
- ongoing armed conflict (such as civil war);
- an environmental disaster (such as an earthquake or hurricane), or an epidemic; or
- other extraordinary and temporary conditions.
During TPS designation, TPS beneficiaries:
- are not removable from the United States;
- can obtain an employment authorization document; and
- may be granted travel authorization.
TPS is temporary in nature, and does not lead to legal permanent residence. However, TPS beneficiaries may be eligible for other programs, and should explore all other options available to them. For a list of currently designated countries, please visit the uscis webiste:
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United States Citizenship and Immigration Services
National Visa Center
U.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State Visa Bulletin
Executive Office of Immigration Review
Board of Immigration Appeals
U.S. Supreme Court
American Immigration Lawyers Association
Immigrant Legal Resource Center
The Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc.
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