When an immigrant is a victim of a crime such as domestic violence or sexual assault, U.S. law sometimes offers a nonimmigrant visa in exchange for the person’s cooperation with law enforcement. This is called a U-1 visa, and it comes with authorization to work in the U.S. The work permit is automatically offered once the Petition for U Nonimmigrant Status is approved.

Unfortunately, there is a large backlog for U-1 visas, so many people are forced to wait an extended period of time before their petitions are approved. That leaves people who have done their part without a way to work legally in the United States while the criminal case moves forward.

Historically, there was little that could be done about this problem. However, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recognizes that there has been a drastic increase in both the volume of U-1 visa petitions and in the backlog. Therefore, it has decided to offer the work authorization earlier in the process to bona fide petitioners and their qualifying family members.

The backlog is up to five years

According to the New York Times, there is currently a backlog of 270,000 U-1 visa applications. There is a waiting list for the official waiting list. It now takes an average of five years to get a U-1 visa petition approved. This is up from around 11 months in 2015.

New process will speed the work authorization, if not the visa

According to the USCIS, the agency will conduct an initial review of each U visa petition. If it determines the petition is “bona fide” (legitimate), it will issue an employment authorization document (EAD) that lasts for four years. Their qualifying family members will also get the EAD.

  • Even if the petition is bona fide, the USCIS will not provide work authorizations to people who pose a risk to national security or public safety.
  • If a petitioner does not pass this initial assessment, he or she will be placed on the full waiting list. They may also receive an EAD for four years.
  • If a petitioner does pass the initial assessment, they can go right to final adjudication, which means they will be granted a U-1 visa as soon as space is available, subject to the annual cap on U visas.
  • Throughout the four-year EAD period, USCIS will perform background and security checks at regular intervals.
  • All U-1 visa petitions, even those found bona fide, will continue to be adjudicated in the order in which they were received.

If you are assisting the police or prosecution with a crime investigation, you may be eligible for a U-1 visa. Contact Yew Immigration Law Group for experienced assistance.