Immigration: What is an S-Visa?

Cynthia Exner and Staff
Cynthia Exner and Staff

What is an S visa?


The S visa is commonly referred to as the “Snitch Visa”, making it easy to remember.  After September 11, 2001, Congress passed legislation as part of the Violent Crime Control Act of 1994, which allows foreign nationals with information on criminal or terrorist organizations or foreign national witnesses to come to the US on a temporary basis, on an S-Visa, in order to provide their critical information to law enforcement officials.  The S-visa program is also known as the “Responsible Cooperators Program”.  Only up to 200 criminal informants and up to 50 terrorist informants may be admitted annually, along with their accompanying immediate family members.  S-visa holders are admitted for a specific purpose and temporary period of time. 


Criminal Informants are designated as S-5 visa holders.

Terrorist Informants are designated as S-6 visa holders.

Accompany Family Members are S-7 (including spouses, married or unmarried children and parents)


An individual cannot make an application for an S-visa.  Requests for the S-visa must be filed by a state or federal law enforcement agency, and the agency assumes responsibility for the foreign national from time of entry until departure.  The Attorney General also has the power to waive any ground of exclusion for an S-nonimmigrant; such as if the S-visa holder is a criminal himself, the Attorney General may waive this ground of exclusion and still permit entry into the US (except for Nazi persecution and genocide)


An S-visa holder may generally stay in the US for up to 3 years, and no extension is permitted. 


However, an S-visa holder may apply for adjustment of status to become a “green card” holder, or permanent resident of the US. 


The foreign national must be willing to provide critical information regarding a criminal or terrorist organization or enterprise, or have already provided such information, and the Attorney General must also determine that the foreign national’s presence in the US is essential to the success of the investigation. For terrorist informants, the Attorney General and Secretary must also determine that the foreign national has been or will be placed in danger as a result of this information.


The Attorney General may adjust the status of S-5 nonimmigrants and their family members to permanent resident status if the foreign national has contributed substantially to a successful criminal investigation.  The Attorney General may also adjust the status of S-6 nonimmigrants if the foreign national has contributed information which led to the prevention or frustration of an act of terrorism against the US, or the successful investigation or prosecution of a terrorist.


Senator Edward Kennedy, Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Immigration was the one who introduced Senate Bill 1424 on September 13, 2001, just two days after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington DC.  The Senate passed the bill unanimously, the same day.  The House passed the bill by unanimous consent on September 15, 2001.  On October 1, 2001, President Bush signed the bill into law, providing permanent authority for admission under the S-visa.

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