News Release

New NACDL Report Shines Light on the “S” Visa Program

Washington, DC (June 29, 2021) -- The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) today released an important new report – Shining a Light on the “S” Visa: A Long History of Unfulfilled Promises and Bureaucratic Red Tape ­­– highlighting the failure of government to properly administer the S Visa Program, a program critical to the nation’s national security, particularly as it faces unprecedented threats to its infrastructure and operations from foreign hackers.

The S Visa is a special program designed to allow law enforcement to provide non-citizens cooperating with investigations and prosecutions with legal status to remain in the United States in exchange for that cooperation. It was established as part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. It is important to obtain cooperation from individuals who are not citizens. It can be critical in national security cases. Indeed, the program was created in the wake of the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993.

The problem with the program, as revealed in this report, is not malice, but rather governmental red tape and associated system failures. The ramifications of this failure should be clear, particularly in the hostile national security environment – from ransomware to illegal arms trafficking – facing the United States. Eligible individuals who might provide information and cooperation are discouraged, and their attorneys find themselves in an impossible position, not able to assure clients of the government’s ability to timely follow through on the exchange.

“The S Visa program has become a bureaucratic bait and switch,” said NACDL Executive Director Norman L. Reimer. “It does not have to be that way. The solutions proposed in this report can simultaneously promote national security and secure needed protections for the accused that were the original goal of the program.”

“This NACDL report — with its diagnosis of the problems and specific practical recommendations — is both timely and shines a light on ‘good government’ solutions that are a win-win for all concerned,” said former FBI General Counsel Andrew Weissmann, who authored the report’s Foreword. “In a time of fractured government and political fissures, it is encouraging to read a report that all can and should get behind.”

“Policymakers should be very interested in this report and its recommendations, as the data indicates that S Visa recipients are often highly productive cooperators,” said NACDL President Christopher W. Adams. “With this report, NACDL continues its ongoing work to identify that which is broken in the criminal legal system, to shine the light on those problems, and to propose solutions. NACDL owes a debt of gratitude to report author Brad Gershel and everyone else who has contributed to the release of this important report.”

This report was written for NACDL by Brad Gershel at the Ballard Spahr law firm, an attorney who on behalf of clients experienced the failures described in this report first-hand.

The report is available at:

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Ivan Dominguez, NACDL Senior Director of Public Affairs and Communications, (202) 465-7662 or

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal legal system.