The category for S visas emerged as a tool against criminal and terrorist acts. After the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York, Congress amended the law.
This Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) established the new S nonimmigrant visa for foreign witnesses and informants. It was part of the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act.
In the types of American visas of non-immigrants, the B1 and B-2 visas, the US student visa, diplomats with their diplomatic type A visa, temporary agricultural workers with their H-2A visa or exchange visitors J- 1 among others, are referenced by the letter indicating the subsection of the INA that provides authority for their admission. Therefore, the S visa is the abbreviated reference to §101 (a) (15) (S) of the INA.2.
In this article you will find extensive up-to-date information on everything related to the S visa. In addition, our immigration lawyers are also criminal lawyers in Los Angeles and are at your service to answer your questions.
With 50 years of combined experience, both Ramiro and David can answer your questions. Call today for a personalized consultation.
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Table of Contents
What is the S visa and what benefits does it grant in 2024?
The US nonimmigrant S category visa allows witnesses or informants to assist law enforcement and provide information about a criminal or terrorist organization in the United States.
This visa is known as a “Snitch” visa and is temporary in nature and does not grant permission to reside in the United States permanently. However, the informant’s status can be changed to permanent resident in the USA as we will explain later.
The US government created this visa for those who would be inadmissible for any other type of visa. Also for those deported. That is, individuals with criminal records or problems in their immigration status.
The S visa allows the Secretary of Homeland Security to waive these grounds of inadmissibility. This exemption only applies when the person has valuable information about a terrorist or criminal activity or organization for the purpose of discovery or prevention.
This visa is also useful for those witnesses who have information and are in danger in their home countries because of it. The United States government can provide them with a safe haven in the country as long as they cooperate with the relevant authorities.
If you are in danger in your country of origin, suffer or fear persecution. You may be eligible for the humanitarian protection form of asylum in the United States.
Types of S visas for witnesses
There are two main types of S visas for witnesses and a third derivative visa. These are:
S-5 Visa for Criminal Informants
This classification may be awarded to a foreign national who possesses critical information about a criminal organization. For this, the attorney general classifies them as having truthful and critical information.
The alien’s role must be vital to the success of the criminal investigation.
Likewise, the foreigner must have provided or be willing to provide such information to the authorities. That is, before federal or state police and a federal or state court.
The number of witnesses or informants who receive the S-5 visa in a fiscal year cannot exceed 200.
S-6 Visa for Terrorist Informants
The S-6 visa is granted to people who possess critical and reliable information in relation to a terrorist organization, operation or company.
The attorney general and secretary of state will determine whether to grant this classification and whether the alien will pose a danger. Also if they are eligible to receive a reward under the State Department Basic Authorities Act of 1956.
The number of informants admitted under this classification may not exceed 50 in any fiscal year.
S-7 visa for accompanying family members
The S-7 nonimmigrant visa is for families of S-5 and S-6 visa holders. This includes spouses, married or unmarried children and parents.
Requirements for the S visa
The main S category visas have different requirements. For the S-5 visa the main authority is the attorney general and for the S-6 it is the secretary of state and also the attorney general. These determine visa eligibility.
Requirements for the S-5 visa for informants of criminal organizations or acts
- The witness or informant must have truthful information about an important aspect of the crime or the criminal organization.
- The informant must be willing to share that information with US law enforcement officials or be a witness in court.
- The presence of the informant in the US is important to the success of the investigation or prosecution of the case.
Requirements for the S-6 visa for informants on terrorist organizations or acts
- The informant must have truthful information about a terrorist organization or activities.
- They must also be willing to share that information with law enforcement officials in the United States or be a witness in court.
- The informant is or will be in danger if they provide this information and;
- They are eligible to receive compensation from the Department of State for providing this information.
Documents to apply for the S visa
In type S visas, the petitioner is the law enforcement agency with which the immigrant is cooperating. The request is made on Form I-854, Interagency Report on Registration of Alien Witness and Informant.
The request must include the agency’s reasons for collaborating with the immigrant. This law enforcement agency must assume responsibility for the alien from admission to departure.
Spouses, unmarried or married children, and parents of S-5 and S-6 visa holders who may enter the US under the S-7 visa category must be included on Form I-854.
Restrictions for S visa holders
While in the United States, holders of an S visa must comply with the following:
- Inform the attorney general every three months about their activities and whereabouts;
- Not be convicted of a crime that is punishable by one or more years in prison;
- Shall not contest an order of removal by any means other than an application for withholding of removal based on fear of persecution if they returned home if removal proceedings commence before the alien becomes a permanent resident; AND
- They must comply with any other conditions that the attorney general imposes during their stay in the United States.
When can an S visa holder apply for adjustment of status?
The S visa holder may apply for adjustment of status to a lawful permanent resident when investigation or prosecution by the United States state or federal agency was successful; and the S visa holder contributed substantially to its success.
Can I get a Green Card with an S visa?
If the type S visa immigrant holder collaborates with a law enforcement agency as a witness or informant, this agency is the one that can send an application for permanent residence (Green Card) on behalf of the immigrant. In short, an S nonimmigrant is an individual who has cooperated with a law enforcement agency as a witness or informant.
It is important to note that only a federal or state agency or one of the United States Attorney’s Offices can submit such a request. It must also be the same with which the immigrant collaborated.
As mentioned above, qualifying family members of the S visa holder can also apply for a Green Card.
Procedure to apply for the Green Card
The procedure to obtain the Green Card through the S visa consists of two steps:
1# File Form I-854
This form must be completed by the competent authorities submitting the request on behalf of the individual.
Along with the completed and signed form, they must submit evidence that the witness or informant fulfilled their obligations and provided information about the possible grounds for inadmissibility.
2# File Form I-485
After Form I-854 is approved, they must file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status.
Here the applicant must check box “h” in Part 2 of the form and write “Non Immigrant S” or “S-Qualified Family Member” on the line next to box “h” .
Documentation along with Form I-485
Please note that filing form I-485 will not be enough. You must jointly submit the following additional documents:
- 2 passport photos.
- Copy of the birth certificate.
- Form I-693 , Medical and Immunization Report.
- Copy of Form I-94, Arrival-Departure Record.
- Copies of all pages of your passport. If you do not have a passport, you will need to submit an explanation.
- Detailed list of dates of entry and exit from the US while under the status of the S visa category and their respective explanation
- Proof of relationship with the witness or informant.
- Proof of employment.
- Corresponding rates.
S Visas FAQs
The S visa will only be valid for 3 years. Official US authorities have determined that this is sufficient time for the witness to provide any valuable knowledge of terrorist or criminal activity.
This visa does not allow an extension, so you will have to leave the country before the visa expires. However, as we have mentioned above., the beneficiaries of this visa can adjust their status to a permanent residence.
For the S-5 visa, only 200 individuals are admitted each fiscal year and for the S-6 it is 50. The maximum period of admission in the S category is three years.
Although by law the advice of a lawyer is not mandatory for the processing of this visa, having an experienced lawyer by your side is always advisable since they can help you in the process and the preparation of your application.
Do you have more questions? Do you want to know if you are eligible for an S visa? Do you need help with your case? Our lawyers are at your service and willing to answer your questions.
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