Each year, thousands of foreign citizens apply for a U visa, a nonimmigrant visa category created specifically for victims of crime who provide helpful assistance to police, prosecutors, and other law enforcement officials in the United States.
Unfortunately, there is a strict legally mandated limit (or “visa cap”) of 10,000 U visas that can be issued to victims of serious crime each year. Since demand greatly exceeds supply, the annual U visa cap is normally reached shortly after the beginning of each fiscal year in October, leaving many petitioners and their family members waiting in limbo for years.
As a stopgap measure, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will often send a deferred action letter to those waitlisted U visa applicants residing in the United States. The deferred action letter allows applicants on the waiting list the opportunity to apply for work authorization while awaiting USCIS’s official decision.
While this temporary fix is a great benefit to applicants already living in the U.S., it does little to help those who are living abroad. For example, if a U visa petitioner is outside the U.S., he or she may have difficulty communicating with U.S. law enforcement officials and maintaining eligibility for U status. Oftentimes, a U visa petitioner in the U.S. and will request derivative U status for his or her close family members (such as a spouse or young children) who live abroad. These family members may be separated from the primary U visa applicant for years while they wait for a U visa to become available.
Currently, U visa applicants must make an affirmative application for what is known as “humanitarian parole,” requesting permission to enter the U.S. These parole requests are considered on a case-by-case basis based upon “urgent humanitarian reasons” or “significant public benefit,” and, in the case of U visa applicants, are often denied.
In a bit of good news for U visa applicants living abroad, USCIS announced in September 2016 that the agency plans to introduce a more streamlined parole process for U visa applicants outside the United States sometime within the current fiscal year, FY2017. Although specific details are not available, it is likely that USCIS will allow U visa applicants to either apply for parole into the U.S. based upon their pending U visa application, or will issue parole letters that are similar to the deferred action letters.
Nolo will update with more details about this process as they become available. Get more information on the U visa, including information about who is eligible, and how to apply.