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U Visa Case Delays

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Cases for U non-immigrant status are taking an abnormally long time to process with USCIS currently. The backlog is frustrating for applicants and attorneys, alike. The delays are attributed to many factors, including an increase in petitions, a cap on visa limits, and a large backlog at the Vermont Service Center of USCIS.

U non-immigrant status is available to foreigners who have been victims of certain crimes. Waivers available under the U visa program can be broad, and this program has opened avenues toward legal immigration for many people who were previously ineligible.

According to recent reports from USCIS, the demand for U non-immigrant status is very high, and resources to process cases are very low. On May 12, 2016, USCIS advised that the Vermont Service Center was processing Form I-918’s on March 31, 2016, that were filed on or before May 7, 2014. This puts U non-immigrant petition processing times at just under 23 months.

The next and more serious issue, however, is that Congress has limited the number of U visas that can be issued to 10,000 per fiscal year. For the federal government, the fiscal year begins each year on October 1. This cap was reached almost immediately after October 1, 2015. This means that no more U visas can be issued until October 1, 2016.

The regulations have anticipated more petitions than visas available, and have provided a provision for deferred action being available for provisionally approved U visa cases. An applicant who has an approvable case can be provisionally approved and wait in deferred action until a visa number becomes available. People with deferred action may request employment authorization from USCIS while waiting for their U visa to be actually approved.

According to USCIS data, however, as of the end of March 2016, the agency had 69,733 pending U petitions. Given that the approval rates on these cases is very high, and given the statutory cap of 10,000 approvals per year, an applicant filing today might expect to wait 7 years or more for a U visa to become available to them.

With the number of U non-immigrant petitions filed each year tripling over the past five years, it is clear that this problem will only get worse over time unless other benefits become available to the nearly 70,000 applicants waiting for their cases to be adjudicated.

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.