U.S. immigration officials are touting visa opportunities for immigrant crime victims who assist law enforcement in prosecuting their perpetrators, reports the Los Angeles Times. Enhanced publicity about the opportunities helped the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services approve the maximum number of visa petitions for this category – 10,000 – for the first time since it began reviewing them in 2008. The so-called U visa grants temporary legal status to those who suffer substantial physical or mental abuse in major crimes and help authorities pursue the cases. After three years, visa holders can apply for permanent residency.
One of the visa recipients this year is a Mexican immigrant in Los Angeles who was caught in the crossfire of a 2006 gang shooting while selling corn on the streets. The victim testified against the perpetrators. One of his assailants has been convicted, and authorities are pursuing cases against the others. Alejandro Mayorkas, the immigration agency chief, said the U visa was a critical tool for law enforcement and crime victims. He said the agency has boosted the number of staff members who process U visa requests from two in 2008 to 45 today.