The purpose of the U-visa is to give immigrant victims of certain crimes temporary legal status and work eligibility in the United States. These crime victims have experienced a “felonious assault” and have cooperated with the police in helping to identify the perpetrator.
In my evaluations with these clients, the experience of the assault has frequently left the victim with symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Often these symptoms constitute a diagnosis of PTSD. In other cases, the symptoms may have lessened over time, and although may not warrant a full PTSD diagnosis, still negatively impact the person significantly.
Symptoms of PTSD include:
- Recurrent and intrusive distressing recollections of the event, including images, thoughts, or perceptions
- Recurrent distressing dreams of the event
- Acting or feeling as if the traumatic even were recurring
- Efforts to avoid thoughts, feelings or conversations associated with the trauma
- Efforts to avoid activities, places or people that arouse recollections of the trauma
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Irritability or outbursts of anger
- Difficulty concentrating
- Exaggerated startle response.
In my experience with U-visa evaluations, many victims experienced their crime while at work. Because of their legal status, they often feel locked into their jobs, without opportunities to change their work location or vocational field. The need to continue to report to work, in a site where a traumatic event occurred, re-traumatizes these clients each day. They cannot afford to quit their jobs, but the stress, anxiety and fear they face daily, psychologically reliving their trauma again and again, causes extreme emotional discomfort.
In addition to the lack of ability to change their jobs, these individuals usually do not have access to mental health services. I am usually the first mental health professional they have ever spoken with. No health insurance and limited access to community agencies where languages other than English are spoken create huge barriers to receiving needed mental health treatment. Additionally, cultural stigma often plays a role in a client’s motivation to seek out services.
During my evaluations, I make referrals and recommendations for longer-term mental health services based on my knowledge of community resources. I encourage clients to follow up with mental health services and I discuss the benefits of processing their feelings with a mental health professional in order to diminish the trauma reaction.