On December 29, 2015, less than three months into the federal government’s fiscal year, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that they have issued the statutory maximum 10,000 petitions for U-1 nonimmigrant status (U visas) for fiscal year 2016. This marks the seventh straight year that USCIS has reached the statutory maximum since it began issuing U visas in 2008.
Each year, 10,000 U visas are available for victims of certain qualifying crimes who have suffered substantial mental or physical abuse and are willing to help law enforcement authorities investigate or prosecute those crimes. A U visa petition requires certification of assistance from law enforcement.
Congress created the U visa program to strengthen the law enforcement community’s ability to investigate and prosecute cases of domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, and other crimes, while also offering protection to victims. More than 127,579 victims and their family members have received U visas since the program was implemented in 2008.
Although USCIS has reached its statutory cap of 10,000 U visas, it will continue to review pending petitions for eligibility. USCIS will send a letter to all eligible petitioners who, due solely to the cap, are not granted U-1 visas, notifying them that they are on a waiting list to receive a U visa when visas become available again. Typically, USCIS will grant the applicant Deferred Action for a period of one to two years, which allows the individual to remain in the United States and receive an Employment Authorization Document. If the applicant is within the first of the 10,000 approvals in the queue the following years, he or she will receive an approval notice granting the U nonimmigrant status. Those who are not within the 10,000 in the queue will remain on Deferred Action until a U visa number becomes available. All applicants and qualifying family members must continue to meet eligibility requirements at the time the U visa is issued.
Due to a signficant increase in the number of U Nonimmigrant Applications in recent years, individuals with pending U Nonimmigrant cases that have received a tentative approval and Deferred Action should be prepared to wait several years before they receive the U Nonimmigrant status approval from USCIS.
USCIS will resume issuing U visas on October 1, 2016, the first day of fiscal year 2017m when visas become available again.