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Klinke Immigration Blog

The Elusive and Misunderstood S Visa

Winning the lottery, being struck by lightning, seeing an albino giraffe – the chances of all of these things happening seem higher to me than getting an S visa.

S visas were created for criminal informants – people involved in criminal activity, but who could turn into witnesses for the prosecution. I sometimes call it a “snitch” visa, but that’s probably not the nicest way to refer to it.

The way an S visa usually works is that it may be offered as part of a plea deal by a law enforcement agency. They’ll say that in exchange for sharing information on the crime, they will apply for an S visa on behalf of the immigrant by submitting an I-854. The law enforcement agency has total control over the process, as the immigrant cannot submit any paperwork for the S visa on their own behalf.

If the immigrant/informant has no legal status, an S visa may sound pretty attractive. It provides temporary status in the United States and works authorization. It can lead to permanent residency, even. However, if the immigrant/informant is already a lawful permanent resident, the S visa makes absolutely no sense. USCIS won’t grant an S visa for someone who already has a green card – yet some law enforcement agencies don’t realize this and still offer S visa “sponsorships” to permanent residents.

When someone tells me that they’ve been offered an S visa, I have to temper their expectations. All too often, law enforcement agencies have used the S visa as a tool to gain cooperation, only to change their mind later and decline to file the I-854, after the criminal case has been resolved.

I have been burned on several cases where the S visa was promised – only to have that promise broken. In fact, on various list-serves around the country and in speaking with other practitioners, many of us have become jaded and wonder if I-854s are ever processed and sent to USCIS. At conferences, we ask each other if anyone has had an S case approved and no one has.

In theory, the S sounds as though it could be a great tool. Yet, I’ve yet to see or hear of it actually being used in the real world. Is the S visa a real thing that is exceptionally rare– like winning the lottery? Or is actually more like a unicorn and a thing of myth?

– Tracie