| Read Time: 4 minutes | Immigration Law
u visa processing time

The U Visa is unique among U.S. visas. It allows crime victims to receive a visa and eventually a green card so long as they cooperate with the criminal investigation.

Yet, U Visas are subject to a yearly issuance limit of 10,000 visas. Because of this limitation, the typical U Visa processing time is several years long. 

While your U Visa is pending, you may live in an uncertain status or have many documents to maintain.

If you need help applying for a U Visa, ensuring you maintain the status granted by the visa, or transitioning from a U Visa to a green card—EMP Law’s skilled immigration lawyers can help. Our experience with immigration law places us in a strong position to help those seeking U Visas.

Contact us online or call (336) 724-2828 today for assistance.

What Is a U Visa?

If you are a noncitizen who is victimized by a crime in the U.S. or a U.S. territory or military base, you may qualify for a U Visa. The U Visa was created alongside the T Visa (for victims of human trafficking) to encourage noncitizens to report crimes and cooperate with criminal investigations regardless of their immigration status. 

To facilitate this goal, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) provides a special form, I-192, Application for Advance Permission to Enter as a Nonimmigrant. You can use this form to request that the USCIS waive any issues that could prevent you from receiving a visa, like time spent in the U.S. without legal status.

How Do You Apply for a U Visa?

Unfortunately, applying for a U Visa first requires you to be the victim of a qualifying crime. You must have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse from the crime and be actually or potentially helpful to law enforcement investigating the crime. 

Many crimes qualify, like:

  • Abduction and kidnapping,
  • Sexual abuse and exploitation, and
  • Extortion and blackmail.

To apply for a U Visa, you submit Form I-918, Petition for U Nonimmigrant Status, along with Form I-918, Supplement B, and U Nonimmigrant Status Certification. Supplement B must be completed by a law enforcement officer. These documents should include a description of the crime and how you are assisting in its investigation. 

U Visas generally last four years. After living three years in the U.S. with a U Visa, you can apply for a green card using Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status

How Do U Visas Get Processed?

Because of the yearly visa limit, U Visa processing times have ballooned over the years. To minimize the effects of processing delays, USCIS created a deferred action system, first through a waiting list, then a bona fide determination. Yet, numerical limitations mean the expected U Visa approval time just keeps growing.

The U Visa Backlog

Every year, USCIS processes outstanding U Visa applications chronologically from the date they were submitted. Once it issues 10,000 U Visas, it stops for the year. 

In 2023, as in many previous years, USCIS met that limit in June. When it began processing U Visas again at the start of its fiscal year in October 2023, USCIS started with applications submitted in July 2016. 

The U Visa Waiting List

To respond to the growing U Visa backlog, USCIS created a waiting list as a deferred action program. Like the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, the waiting list’s deferred action status promises beneficiaries that it will not generally target them for deportation for a specific period. 

Up until 2021, U Visa applications were placed on the waiting list after a USCIS officer confirmed the application was legitimate. Once placed on the waiting list, the U Visa applicant qualified for deferred action and employment authorization. However, in 2021, USCIS replaced the waiting list process.

The U Visa Bona Fide Determination Process

Like the waiting list process, USCIS’s bona fide determination process grants U Visa applicants deferred action status while their applications are pending. Applications placed on the waiting list on or before June 14, 2021, generally do not go through the bona fide determination process. From June 14, 2021, and on, applications go through the bona fide process, which involves a USCIS officer determining that the U Visa application is genuine

The lengthy 64.5-month U Visa processing time that the USCIS reports actually applies to bona fide determinations. In October 2023, USCIS started processing applications from July 2016, meaning U Visas are taking seven or more years to process.

How Do You Get Work Authorization Based on a U Visa?

To obtain an employment authorization document (EAD), you submit Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization. You can submit your I-765 with your I-918 or at a later date. 

At present, the U Visa work permit processing time is tied directly to the bona fide determination process. Once USCIS issues a bona fide determination, you qualify for an EAD. Since the typical time to reach a bona fide determination is currently over five years, the U Visa work permit waiting time is also over five years. 

Contact Us for Help With the U Visa Process

U Visas encourage noncitizens, including those without legal status, to report crimes and cooperate in the prosecution. However, lengthy U Visa processing times can complicate things. If you are considering applying, have already applied but need assistance with your case, or need to discuss your U Visa options, reach out to our firm online or call (336) 724-2828 today.

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Helen believes in providing caring, thoughtful and thorough representation for each and every person. In particular, Helen focuses on helping individuals navigate the maze of rules, procedures and processes created by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services and those facing criminal charges or deportation.

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