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The U Visa Conundrum

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Recently, USCIS released statistics regarding Form I-918 U Nonimmigrant Status Petitions. While the numbers were generally not surprising, they give us a general indication of the strains on the U visa program.

U Nonimmigrant Status, commonly referred to as a U visa, is available to people who have been victims of certain crimes, and who have cooperated with law enforcement in the investigation and prosecution of the crimes. The crimes are defined by statute, and are generally crimes that involve considerable hardship to a victim. U visas are generally considered to be humanitarian immigration relief to victims of crimes.

According to USCIS, 30,106 visa petitions were received for U status in fiscal year 2015. Congress allows USCIS to grant 10,000 U visa petitions per year. Adding to the 45,898 visa petitions which were pending at the end of FY2014, and subtracting out the approvals and denials for FY2015, this left a total of 63,762 pending U visa petitions in the system at the beginning of FY2016.

When taking into account the relatively high approval rate of filed U visa petitions, as well as 10,000 approvals to be made in FY2016, we are currently estimating that a U visa petition filed today will take approximately 5-6 years to process through USCIS. Further, given that U visa petitions have steadily increased since the inception of the program in 2009, that 5-6 year wait could easily be an 8-10 year wait by the end of FY2016.

The law does permit provisional approvals of U visa petitions, with either deferred action or parole to be approved, accompanied by employment authorization. However, these temporary benefits hinder an applicant by not allowing them to seek permanent residency or re-enter the United States after temporary travel.

Essentially, without an increase in resources such as additional U visa numbers or other immigration relief, the backlog will grow by 1 year for each 10,000 approvable U visa petitions that USCIS receives. If USCIS receives over 30,000 petitions again this fiscal year, the backlog will increase by over 3 years over the next year.

Bryon M. Large, Sr. is a Senior Associate Attorney at Kolko & Associates, P.C., a Denver-based full service immigration law firm. He is licensed to practice law by the Colorado Supreme Court and has also been admitted by the United States District Court for the District of Colorado and the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. He received his Juris Doctor degree from the University of Denver and his undergraduate degree from the University of New Mexico. Bryon actively practices removal defense, federal litigation, family-based and employment-based immigration, asylum and naturalization.

Bryon is a past Chapter Chair for the Colorado Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), as well as a Past Chair of the Immigration Law Section of the Colorado Bar Association. He currently serves as the President of the Colorado LGBT Bar Association, an Elected Director on the AILA Board of Governors, and is a member of the National LGBT Bar Association.

Bryon’s true passion in life is being a father to his two children.

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Kolko & Casey, P.C. is a full service immigration and naturalization law firm providing professional legal services to individuals and businesses throughout Colorado, the Rocky Mountain West, the United States, and the World. Our professional staff speaks English, Spanish, Korean, and Portuguese and we can arrange for translators in any other language.