So you’ve gathered all the required evidence to apply for a U visa and sent Form I-918, Application for U Nonimmigrant Status and all supporting documents to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Now begins the waiting game.
The amount of time necessary for USCIS to make a decision on your application will vary depending on the details of your case, but this article will provide guidance for U visa applicants who are waiting for USCIS to approve their request for a nonimmigrant visa. For a series of articles explaining U visa eligibility and how to apply, see Nolo’s section, “U Visas for Crime Victims Assisting Law Enforcement.”
Processing Times May Vary
Generally, it takes about a year for USCIS to fully process U visa applications, which includes taking biometrics (photographs and fingerprints), processing all forms and supporting information (such as the Certification of Helpfulness by a qualifying agency), and finally, issuing an approval notice and your work permit.
However, you should use that estimate as a guideline, not a guarantee. The amount of time USCIS takes to process your Form I-918 can vary widely depending on the particulars of your case. For example, if the USCIS officer assigned to your case needs more information, he or she will issue a Request for Evidence (RFE), which will put a hold on your file until you send the requested documents. For more on responding to an RFE, please read “How to Handle a Request for Evidence (RFE) From USCIS.”
The “Cap” Can Contribute to Case Processing Delays
There is a federally mandated limit of 10,000 U visas per fiscal year – not including derivative visas for immediate family members – and in recent years, all U visas have run out before the end of the fiscal year (which runs from October 1 to September 30). Despite a push in Congress to increase the U visa cap to 15,000, the number of visas available per year remains unchanged and is unlikely to be revisited for a long time unless comprehensive immigration reform affecting U visa issuance is signed into law.
In addition, there was heated debate in Congress that led to a delay in reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), the law that gives USCIS the authority to issue U visas. Although VAWA was eventually renewed in March 2013, the gap in reauthorization may have led to some delays in U visa processing.
Consular Processing Can Hold Up Derivative U Visas
In addition, if you are applying for a derivative visa for a family member who lives abroad, your family member will need to contact the nearest U.S. consulate to interview for a visa. Some consulates are very busy and that might contribute to a delay in getting an appointment for an interview, as well as longer processing times. If the immigration officer needs additional evidence from your family member to determine whether he or she is admissible to the United States, it can also lead to a more lengthy wait.
You Can Check the USCIS Processing Timeframes for Form I-918
As with most immigration application and petitions, you can check the case processing timeframe on the USCIS Processing Time Information website. This website is usually updated once per month, and it can give you a general idea of which applications USCIS is currently adjudicating. Currently, all U visa applications are reviewed at the Vermont Service Center (VSC). As of early 2013, USCIS was processing Form I-918s received more than a year ago.