So you've gathered all the required evidence to apply for a U visa, based on being a crime victim (or an immediate family member of one) who suffered substantial mental or physical abuse while in the U.S. and who is willing to assist law enforcement and government officials in the investigation. What's more, you've filled out 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. From applying for a U visa to receiving a U visa, immigrants can expect to wait ten years or more.
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 more articles on U Visas for Crime Victims Assisting Law Enforcement.
It typically takes about four and a half years for USCIS to fully process U visa applications, which includes the agency 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 work permit.
However, you should view that estimate as a guideline, not a guarantee. The amount of time USCIS takes to process a 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). That will put a hold on your file until you send in the requested documents. For more on responding to an RFE, please read How to Handle a Request for Evidence (RFE) From USCIS.
Just because USCIS has received and reviewed your U visa does not mean that you will get U status. There is a federally mandated limit of 10,000 U visas per fiscal year—not including visas for the immediate family members of the person granted U status—and in recent years, all U visas have run out before the end of the fiscal year (which goes from October 1 to September 30).
To partially alleviate the lengthy wait, USCIS can grant "deferred action" to immigrants who have gone through the application process and whose cases have been approved, but for whom no visa is yet available. Once you get deferred action, you are eligible to apply to USCIS for work authorization. However, you can expect to wait several more years in deferred action status before receiving your actual U visa.
In addition, in recent years there has been heated debate in Congress about reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), the law that gives USCIS the authority to issue U visas. Gaps in reauthorization can lead to delays in U visa processing.
If you, the crime victim, 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 extremely busy, which 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 lengthy wait.
Until you have received a U visa or deferred action, you do not have legal status. You could be picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and placed in detention or removal proceedings. Once placed in removal proceedings, you might or might not be able to get a stay of removal (which would stop you from being deported). Having a pending U visa alone will not be grounds for a stay of removal, under 2019 guidance from the Trump administration.
While your U visa is pending, you do not have work authorization. Once you receive deferred action, you can apply to USCIS for work authorization.
As with most immigration application and petitions, you can check the case processing timeframe on the USCIS Processing Time Information web page.
This is usually updated once per month, and can give you a general idea of which applications USCIS is currently making decisions on. All U visa applications are reviewed at either the Vermont or the Nebraska Service Center, depending on where the applicant lives. As of early 2021, USCIS was processing Form I-918s that it had received approximately five years previously.