Two New York men were arrested in December and accused of staging fake armed robberies to make their targets eligible for a special visa for victims of violent crime.
The U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts charged the two men, Rambhai Patel, 36, and Balwinder Singh, 39, each with one count of visa fraud for the scheme, which allegedly took place in at least eight locations throughout the United States.
Authorities said Patel carried out the staged robberies at liquor stores, convenience stores and fast food establishments, sometimes with the help of Singh.
The clerks or store owners who played the victims in the scheme paid Patel, and some store owners charged him to allow the fake robbery to take place, according to the allegations.
Foreign nationals who are victims of violent crime and collaborate with the police may be eligible for a U visa, which confers substantial immigration benefits.
In addition to erasing a foreign national’s past immigration violation, the U visa comes with a four-year work permit, protection from deportation, and the possibility for the visa holder to apply for permanent residency, also known as a green card. A U visa also allows the petitioner to include certain family members in the application.
The U visa is intended to help police solve crimes and for foreign nationals to more readily report crimes to the police without fear of deportation.
The federal government can grant up to 10,000 U visas per year, though many more such visas are approved every year because of existing backlogs, according to the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC), a nonprofit organization.
According to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency received 53,142 U visa applications in fiscal 2023, of which it granted 17,889 and denied 6,993, and there is a pending backlog of 344,600 applications.
Those backlogs mean the visas have long wait times.
According to ILRC, a person can expect to wait about five years for work authorization connected to their U visa application, and 10 years to actually get the visa.
Patel’s alleged fake victims could have faced those wait times, but as U visa applicants they would not be targets for Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.
That protection is liable to change from administration to administration, however.
“The long wait for the U visa means that you might file your application while Biden is president, for example, but the application might be decided when someone else is president, who might have a very different immigration agenda,” reads a ILRC explainer for potential U visa applicants.
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