The “U” visa program created as part of the Violence Against Woman Act (VAWA) was, and is, a good idea and an effective tool for law enforcement. As a society, we want people, (including undocumented people) to come forward and report crimes, both as victims and witnesses, in order to bring law enforcement into situations and locations that can assist innocent victims, punish criminals and fight crime. The “U” visa is available to 10,000 people a year who are harmed as victims, or indirect victims, of typically violent crimes. Once the “U” visa is issued, the individual is converted to legal status in the United States, and after three years in this status can seek lawful permanent residence (a green card). That said, the program itself, like every other program that Congress caps with an artificially limited number of visas, has become a shadow of its former self.
In just released Fiscal Year 2015 numbers, USCIS let the public know that more than 110,303 “U” visa applications are pending decision by the USCIS. There are also 17,694 U visa petitions that were actually approved during Fiscal Year 2015. The USCIS approves around 80% of the “U” visa applications that it receives (on average). This means, that if the USCIS receives zero “U” visa applications in Fiscal Year 2016 (which of course is not going to happen), there will be about 100,000 people with approved “U” visa petitions waiting for the 10,000 “U” visa slots that can be actually issued each year. That means for new applicants in Fiscal Year 2106, there will be at least a 10-12 year wait for issuance of the “U” visa status, with permanent residence at least 13 years away.
That is not the worst of these numbers. Each year for the last six year we have seen an increasing number of “U” visa petitions filed. In Fiscal Year 2015, USCIS received 52,666 applications. This number alone is almost a 5 year supply of “U” visas! If this trend continues, at the end of Fiscal Year 2016, there will be a 15 year supply for “U” visa approved petitions, with permanent residence and later citizenship almost a decade beyond that. Twenty Five years; think about that.
What does USCIS do for approved applicants if there are no “U” visa petitions available to be distributed? It puts these individuals on “Deferred Action” status, which, technically speaking is not a status. This status comes without the right to travel at this time (something that a “U” visa status holder has). And, while an approved applicant with “Deferred Action” can receive a work permit, the permit typically must be approved every two years. It is essentially decades of temporariness with the hope of a resolution that is years away.
So, once again, we have a congressionally created program that started with good intentions, but has ended up in crisis. Victims of crime are real people. They come forward seeking law enforcement assistance and seeking justice under our legal system. Unfortunately, these victims of crime will not receive any timely justice from the immigration system..