Maria Butina’s Immigration Options: Can a Spy Remain in the United States?

Maria Butina’s Immigration Options

Maria Butina will plead guilty to some charge tomorrow. The charge for which she will plead is unclear. However, it will likely be a charge under 18 U.S. Code § 951, for failing to register as an agent of a foreign government. This had me thinking: would Butina have any options to remain in the United States? In this post, I will discuss some options. However, I must caution that this analysis would depend on the type of crime of which she is convicted. If Butina pleads to an aggravated felony or a crime involving moral turpitude, then this analysis will change. 


Asylum might be an option, depending on the charge. Butina might be able to file for asylum as a member of a particular social group, political opinion, or for protection under the Torture Convention.  For example, Butina may apply under the membership prong as a Russian who pled to a crime in the United States. Moreover, she can claim asylum as a Russian deemed by the Russian government as a former spy whose life could be in danger if she returns. Butina could use the cases of former Russian spies whom the Russian government killed or severely injured   to support her case. 

S or U Visa:

The Government grants these visas to cooperating witnesses (S) or victims of crime (U). The S visa sometimes called the Snitch Visa, is for witnesses possess reliable information regarding a criminal or terrorist organization. To qualify, the person must supply the information and the Attorney General must determine that the person’s presence is critical to the success of prosecution. 

The U visa is for victims of crimes. So, assuming Butina is a victim of a crime, the United States government could give her the visa if she testifies. 

Permanent Residence: 

 News outlets report that Butina has been dating a prominent Republican insider for a while. Assuming Butina is not married, and her beau is not, they could get married. This will allow her to remain in the United States after the approval of permanent residency petition. Additionally, she could apply for permanent residence after the Government grants her asylum claim. 

As mentioned above, this will depend on the caveat above. Call us today if you are facing removal because of a crime.