Over the past few years, we’ve talked about how only 10,000 U visas are available each year, and how on October 1 each year – the start of the government’s fiscal year and when new visas become available – U visas are gone faster and faster.
We are now at a point where so many U applications have been filed and provisionally approved that the waitlist has grown to over 30,000; maybe even closer to 50,000. That means if someone applies for a U visa now – in November 2015 – they may not actually get the actual visa or status until October 2019 at the earliest.
Since we’re a month into the Fiscal Year 2016, let’s talk about where I think the Vermont Service Center (VSC) is with the waitlist.
An applicant’s place on the waitlist is determined by the date they applied – not the date of a decision. Right now, many advocates believe that the applicants most likely to be granted their U visas or status in Fiscal Year 2016 are people who applied between April 2013 and October 2013 (though I certainly hope for a larger window so that more people get their U visa granted).
So far, I’ve had two clients taken off the waitlist – their applications were filed in May and July 2013.
It does take time for VSC to work through the waitlist. It’s not as though the first 10,000 people on the waitlist are automatically granted U visas at the stroke of midnight on October 1st each year.
Background checks have to be updated, files have to be reviewed, and their staff is limited. It will likely take until the end of December until all 10,000 people have been notified. So, if you applied in those six months during 2013, were provisionally approved, and have not heard anything yet, don’t give up hope on an approval, yet.
For anyone with a pending U application or getting ready to file for a U visa, I certainly don’t want to dissuade you from applying. You have to apply in order to get on the waitlist.
Thankfully, once an application is reviewed and the case looks approvable, but for the lack of a visa being available, you’ll be granted deferred action and will be given the opportunity to apply for a work card, which in many states, including Georgia, means you’ll be eligible to apply for a driver’s license as well.
There are drawbacks to deferred action status, though.
The ability to bring derivative family members in from abroad is extremely limited while in deferred action. Also, in order to be eligible to apply for permanent residency, you have to show you’ve held U status for three years. All the time spent in deferred action while on the waitlist does not count towards this – meaning that the time spent waiting for permanent residency and eventual citizenship is greatly lengthened.
With the waitlist growing exponentially over the last few years, I anticipate that we’ll see some major changes in how cases are handled and what benefits may be available to those who are on the waitlist.
Unfortunately, the most common-sense fix – getting rid of the 10,000 visa limit – is the hardest fix because it would literally take an act of Congress, and I don’t see Congress doing anything to help immigrants, even immigrant victims of crime, anytime soon.