Recent Updates to the U-Visa Qualification Process

The U-Visa program is one of the greatest achievements of our immigration program. It helps to protect those who have been victims of crimes, while also helping police effectively prosecute these crimes with the help of a committed witness.

Technically, U-visas are for victims of certain crimes who “have suffered mental or physical abuse and are helpful to law enforcement or government officials in the investigation or prosecution of criminal activity.”

Processing of applications for U-Visas can take up to four years or more. The government issues only 10,000 U-visas per year,  but there is no limit on the number of visas that can be issued to spouses and children of applicants, or to parents of applicants who are themselves under 21.

Recently, the Trump administration has updated some aspects of the U-Visa program in ways that immigration advocates are saying could negatively impact crime victims.

What will be different:

  • The new regulations allow applicants to be deported even while they are waiting for their visas. Advocates are saying that this extra level of risk means that many immigrants will be far less likely to report serious crimes, and the program will suffer as a result of this.
  • The above is reaffirmed by the statement that the agency “no longer exempts classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement.”
  • There are also some more vague terms. The new directive gives the right for the agency to “review the totality of the circumstances, including any favorable or adverse factors, and any federal interest(s) implicated and decide whether a Stay of Removal or terminating proceedings is appropriate.” This leaves a lot up to interpretation, and basically ensures that no U-Visa applicant can ever feel truly safe again until their application is approved.
  • These changes are on top of the change implemented last year, when USCIS ended its practice of waiving fees for U visa applicants. While the application for a U-Visa does not cost any money, applicants with past criminal or immigration violations must pay a $930 fee to apply for a waiver.

On a brighter note, the State of Illinois recently passed the VOICES Act, which assists in providing uniformity for a part of the process of the U-visa.

In 2017, a report by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights found irregular handling of U-visa cases across the state. The VOICES Act was implemented to ensure that immigrant survivors of trafficking and certain qualifying violent crimes will have uniform access to the U or T visa throughout the State of Illinois.

To qualify for U or T visas, the immigrant survivor of a crime must obtain a signed certification from the relevant law enforcement agency affirming the applicant’s willingness to cooperate in the investigation or prosecution of the case. The signed certification gives survivors the right to proceed with the full U visa application process before USCIS.

If you are someone who is thinking about applying for a U-visa or you are in the middle of an application but have more questions, reach out to me to discuss!