The U.S. Congress created U non-immigrant status (the U visa) in October 2000 to help victims of certain crimes who have experienced extreme mental or physical abuse and were helpful to law enforcement of government in the investigation or prosecution of criminal activity.  The U visa bestows clear benefits, when granted: The applicant—and any qualifying family members included as the applicant’s derivatives—can work and reside in the United States lawfully for four years; but after having U visa status for three years, the Applicant can apply to become a lawful permanent resident of the United States.

The only downside? The wait.  When Congress created the U visa, it set an annual cap of 10,000 visas that may be granted to principal applicants each year.  Once it has doled out the first 10,000 visas each year, the remaining applicants are placed on a waiting list.  So, just how long do applicant’s have to wait until there are granted a U visa, you ask? The most recent estimate from USCIS indicates total processing times of between 50 – 50.5 months, or just over four years!

There are two important things to keep in mind while waiting for your U visa:

  • First, it is normal to go long periods without receiving any notice from USCIS updating you on your case.  This is normal practice. For the most part, after USCIS sends the applicant initial notices in the month after filing the U visa application, the applicant will not receive any more communication from USCIS for two or three years. 
  • Second, keep your attorney informed of any plans to change marital status, or any recent contact with law enforcement.  A lot can happen in a person’s life over the course of four years.  Applicants may get married, divorced, or have children.  These changes can all impact the U visa application.  It’s important to discuss any changes with that may occur in your life with at attorney while the U visa is pending.

For an obvious example, if a wife included her husband as her derivative on her U visa application and they divorce while it’s pending, that husband is no longer eligible to receive a U visa.Or, if the applicant is under the age of 21 and included their parents, the applicant should proceed with caution before marrying, as the marriage would mean the parents could no longer qualify for a U visa, either. Always consult with an attorney before making any legal changes that would alter that family structure.

While the U visa is pending, an applicant could also be arrested, charged, or convicted of a crime. Depending on the resolution of the matter, the applicant may need to update their U visa application.If the new contact with law enforcement made the applicant trigger a ground of inadmissibility, then the applicant may also need to get a new updated waiver (also known as a I-192, application for advanced permission to enter as a nonimmigrant) of inadmissibility, too.

In sum, having a U visa application pending is a true exercise in patience.  Don’t fret if you haven’t received notice from USCIS in a while.  Make sure to consult an attorney before going forward with a divorce or a marriage.  Contact Wilson Law Group for a free consultation to see if you may qualify for a U visa, or if you have a U visa pending and need to discuss any recent criminal contact or possible changes in marital status.