A California law designed to increase access for immigrant crime victims to an important type of lawful status, called the U visa, went into effect January 1, 2016. The California law is called SB674: Immigrant Victims of Crime Equity Act. In the past, there has been no protocol for reviewing U visa certification requests at California law enforcement agencies. As a result, some agencies imposed their own standards, refusing to sign them or creating unreasonable delays even when the applicants were victims of qualifying crimes and were helpful to law enforcement. This new California law aims to streamline the certification process for U visa applicants.
What is a U Visa?
The U visa was created to protect certain non-citizen crime victims and encourage cooperation with law enforcement. To be eligible for a U visa, a person must:
• have been a victim of a qualifying crime in the U.S.;
• have suffered substantial abuse as a result of the crime;
• have been helpful (or likely to be helpful to law enforcement) in the investigation or prosecution of the crime; and
• have a law enforcement authority certify the person’s helpfulness.
Most grounds of inadmissibility can be waived when filing a U-visa. A person who obtains a U visa may apply for lawful permanent residence three years after obtaining the U visa.
How does the new law affect the U visa process?
The new law imposes several requirements on law enforcement agencies in California when responding to requests for U visa certification. Here are important ways the new law changes the certification process.
First, SB674 creates a “rebuttable presumption” that a victim has been or will likely be helpful to law enforcement. In other words, if there is no evidence that the victim refused or failed to provide information and assistance when asked by law enforcement to do so, the California law enforcement agency must sign the certification.
Secondly, the certifying officer must include details about the crime and the victim’s helpfulness, and otherwise fully complete and sign the form.
Thirdly, the law mandates that agencies process certification requests within 90 days within receiving them, or 14 days if the applicant is in removal proceedings.
If you have questions about U visas or if you believe you were wrongly refused a U visa certification in the past, please contact our office.
 If an applicant thinks that she may be inadmissible, she should discuss filing a Form I-192 with her U-visa application to waive any grounds of inadmissibility with an immigration attorney.