When Congress created the U visa, they made only 10,000 visas available per fiscal year. The fiscal year starts in October every year, so on October 1, 2013 we entered Fiscal Year 2014. On December 11, 2013, the Vermont Service Center announced that they had already reached the U visa cap for 2014. That means no new U visas will be approved until October 1, 2014.
The Vermont Service Center will still look at U applications between now and October 2014. If the case is approvable, the application will be put in a pile and be first in line for a U visa on October 1, 2014. In the meantime, the applicant should be granted deferred action, meaning that he or she can live in the United States without the worry of being deported or removed. So, at least they will receive some protection, though it is a far cry from a perfect solution.
Even without the cap, it’s taking the Vermont Service Center over 12 months to approve a U case. With the pause on new approvals for the next ten months, applicants are looking at over two years of administrative delays before getting their status.
It’s not just the short-term that’s impacted. First, a U visa holder has to be in valid U status for three years before applying for a green card. So the time it takes to become a lawful permanent resident is now delayed by months, if not years.
Another consequence of the backlog combined with the cap being reached is that Consular Processing of U derivatives has come to a halt: children in other countries have to wait until the parent has an approved U visa before they can apply for their own U visa to come to the United States. Families who thought they may be reunited in early 2014 are now looking at an additional ten months or longer of a wait.
The U visa was created to help immigrant victims of crime and to encourage cooperation with law enforcement agencies. My worry is that now that the cap is reached, immigrant victims are going to be less inclined to call the police, to press charges, and to go to court if they think their U applications won’t be looked at or approved for a year or more. Why place a limit, though, on visas for victims of violence? There is no limit to violence in our country or its prosecution, so why do we limit relief for immigrants?