Evaluations for U, Non-Immigrant, Visas

How can we conceptualize and document harm?

Posted Jan 27, 2019

Legal Background

The U nonimmigrant visa (“U visa”) is designed for victims of crimes who have suffered substantial mental or physical abuse and are willing to assist law enforcement and government officials in the investigation or prosecution of criminal activity. It is specifically for those who have suffered harm as the result of having been a victim of a qualifying criminal activity that violated United States laws. The individual must have information concerning the criminal activity, and also must have been helpful (or must be likely to help) in the investigation or prosecution of the crime. In certain situations, United States immigration law allows foreign nationals who have been victims of certain crimes and granted U nonimmigrant status to become lawful permanent residents by obtaining a Green Card. 

Conceptualizing Harm

Given that U visa applicants must have suffered harm, how can that harm be established? The harm should be conceptualized very broadly. Psychosocial evaluations are undertaken to provide a wide net of queries into the applicants’ background to understand their development in life up and until they became victims of crime. Specifically, it is important to know how the applicant was particularly fragile or vulnerable before he or she became a victim of the crime, to get a better sense of how he or she reacted, idiosyncratically. This is because two people may react very differently to the same crime. For example, some may react to the trauma and violation of a home burglary by moving to another house; others may lock themselves at home. Still others may carry on in their lives as if nothing had happened. We react differently to crimes depending on our own history, background, psychological makeup, and social experiences.

The broad areas of psychosocial evaluations may include family systems, childhood development, social skills, sexual development, hobbies, community ties, education, finances, military service, substance abuse, criminal history, religious views, and mental health issues. Because victims should be taken as they are (i.e. there is no “correct” way to respond to a crime), a predisposition to psychiatric issues due to past trauma is a crucial starting point in U visa evaluations within immigration forensics. Functional harms may include quality of life issues, deficits in everyday activities, cognitive loss, interpersonal friction, marital dissolution, lifestyle changes, community losses, and changes of residence. Specific types of harm include physical harm, psychological harm, emotional harm, verbal harm (including racial slurs, threats, and expletives), sexual harm, and financial harm. The entire family of the victim may be assessed along with the victim to provide further insights that the victim may not be able to express.

Psychiatric Issues

Some major mental health issues that can be documented may include Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, Panic Attacks, limited socialization, and paranoia. It is important, for a U visa, that any mental health disorder be documented carefully and in detail.

It is also important to get help for these individuals. Mental health clinics tend to be best if they have many resources because they are psychiatrically holistic. Other structures that may help include support groups, psychiatric care, psychotherapy, spiritual or religious support, and family/friends. It may be particularly difficult for U visa applicants to seek mental health assistance for many reasons, including that depending where they are from, they might not be familiar with healthcare systems and mental health treatment philosophies. They may also suffer from a fear of authority figures.

Despite the difficulties associated with recalling, detailing, documenting and finding treatment for harms caused by becoming the victim of criminal activity, it is important that U visa applicants and their lawyers strive to accurately, holistically, and broadly present a case demonstrating harm in their petitions.


Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem. Use of and access to this blog or any of the e-mail links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the user or browser. The opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual author and may not reflect the opinions of any law firm or Psychology Today.


Mark Silver, “U (Non-Immigrant) Visa Petitions: Psychosocial Evaluations,” Lexvid Services, Inc. (May 2016)

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, “Victims of Criminal Activity: U Nonimmigrant Status,” available at https://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/victims-human-trafficking-other-crimes/victims-criminal-activity-u-nonimmigrant-status/victims-criminal-activity-u-nonimmigrant-status

More Posts