US Immigration Service, Immigration Lawyer May Find Temporary Relief for U Visa Applicants

U Visa

In a recent stakeholder conference with immigration advocacy organizations, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service’s (USCIS) Vermont Service Center announced that the 10,000 cap on U visa approvals for the fiscal year 2014 will be reached earlier than ever before. This will result in a drastically increased delay in the adjudication of U visa applications, for which the wait time is already more than a year. However, in the same conference, USCIS announced that they are currently evaluating a proposal to issue some temporary relief to U visa applicants while their cases are pending.

The U visa is a legal status available to individuals who have been victims of crime in the U.S. and who were helpful to police or prosecutors during the investigation or prosecution of those crimes. It can be an outstanding option for many individuals because it allows the applicant to obtain an employment authorization and social security number, and to apply for legal permanent residency after three years. It also allows for a waiver of inadmissibility for individuals who have prior immigration violations or criminal records that may prohibit them from applying for other immigration benefits.

As public awareness about the U visa grows, so too has the number of applications received by USCIS. This has created problems for the government in that the wait times to have U visa applications adjudicated has grown to more than a year. Further, the government can only grant 10,000 U visas per fiscal year. This cap was not reached during the first several years of the U visa’s existence but has recently become a real concern. USCIS addressed this “cap problem” in their stakeholder conference in October.

During the conference, officials expressed their awareness and concern over the long wait times and a limited number of U visa approvals they had at their disposal. To address this problem, they announced that they are considering granting a “conditional approval” to individuals who apply for U visas but whose cases are not processed before the 10,000 cap is hit. Instead of having to wait around for a response until the new fiscal year begins in 2014, USCIS stated that they may grant “deferred action” to these applicants. This would allow them to receive a work authorization and temporary legal status while their applications are pending, or at least until the new round of visas becomes available in October of 2014.

What does this mean for U visa applicants?

This announcement by USCIS means that you or your attorney should closely monitor USCIS press releases and stay on top of the minutes released from their stakeholder calls to ensure you’re aware of when you are eligible to apply for an employment authorization. For many U visa applicants who have only recently submitted their applications, this could mean reducing the wait time to receive an employment authorization by over a year.

As of the date of this post, there is no way to apply for a conditional approval while you wait for a decision on your application. However, this policy could change any time – and we hope that it will. If you have questions about whether or not you may be eligible to apply for employment authorization, or about the U visa in general, feel free to contact our immigration attorneys for a consultation.