So you’ve gathered all the required evidence to apply for a U visa, based on is 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 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.
Generally, it takes about a year and a half for USCIS to fully process U visa applications these days, 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.
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 runs from October 1 to September 30).
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.
In addition, if you, the crime victim, are applying for a 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.
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 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 2019, USCIS was processing Form I-918s received about four years previously.