Being the victim of a crime can be a terrifying and sometimes life-threatening experience. It is even more difficult if the victim is undocumented and fears deportation if he or she turns to local law enforcement for help. The United States government recognizes that in order to fight crime, the police and prosecutors need the cooperation of victims, and require the tools to encourage their participation and trust. And so, Congress created the U visa. If someone without lawful immigration status has been the victim of a serious crime in the U.S., has been helpful to the investigation and/or prosecution of that crime, and has suffered mental or physical harm as a result of the crime, then he or she may be eligible to apply for a U visa. Qualifying family members may be included in the application as well.
After obtaining certification from a law enforcement agency that the victim was helpful to the investigation or prosecution of a crime, the U applicant may proceed to filing his or her application and supporting documents with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The applicant should be aware that the process can take a fairly long time. Currently, USCIS is taking around nine months to make a decision on pending U visa applications. USCIS has set a goal for itself of cutting that processing time down to six months by mid-2014.
There is also a cap, or limit, of 10,000 U visas that may be granted each year. And each year since 2008, all of the visas have been given out. Ten thousand new visas are then available at the start of the government’s fiscal year, each year on October first. Because of the increasing number of applicants and slowing government processing times, many people who have approvable applications will be placed on a waiting list, until there are additional visas available.
USCIS has recognized these shortcomings and in early 2014, they began granting â€œdeferred action to approvable applicants on the wait list. A grant of deferred action then allows the applicant to request a work permit while he or she is waiting for visas to be available in the following fiscal year. After receiving a work permit, the applicant may apply for a Social Security number and, in many states, a driver’s license. So far, several DMCA clients have received deferred action and we have helped the majority of them to apply for a work permit.
Those people granted deferred action will be among the first to receive their U visa at the beginning of the new fiscal year, the following October. The U applicants with deferred action do not have to take further action on their application, although they must otherwise maintain their eligibility. For instance, if law enforcement follows up with them, they must continue to be helpful. U visas are granted for a length of four years and after three years, the U visa recipient may be eligible to apply for permanent residence.
If you or someone you know has been the victim of a crime in the U.S., the U visa may be a good option to obtain lawful status. It is one way for crime victims to make the best out of what was likely a difficult situation and move forward with a more stable future. Contact DMCA attorneys for a consultation to see if you qualify.