Last month, I was fortunate to meet with some of the best and brightest advocates and discuss U visas (available for victims of certain crimes). We talked about the backlog, adjudication trends, the new forms, and what happens to U applicants with removal orders. I’d like to share some highlights from that conversation.

The Backlog/Wait List

As we know, USCIS can only issue 10,000 U visas per yet. Yet, 50,000 or more applications are filed each year. This has led to a long wait list of people granted deferred action while waiting for visas to become available each new fiscal year.

There are 168,000 pending U cases. This includes people who are on the wait list and cases that haven’t been looked at, as well as principal and derivative applications. There are only 60 adjudicators who are trained to handle these cases. Doing some quick math, that means that each officer is responsible for 2800 case. I would imagine that it’s pretty overwhelming.

Right now, USCIS says they are working on cases that were filed on or before August 25, 2014. That’s right – nearly three years behind.  Since April 2015, the processing chart for U visas has only moved forward three months.

USCIS informed us that there are currently only 7,000 people on the waitlist. I suppose the good news is that if you have been placed on the wait list and granted deferred action status you should be able to convert to actual U status starting in October 2017 with the new fiscal year. The bad news is that it still leaves 161,000 pending U applications.

Adjudication Trends

USCIS has taken a stricter stance when it comes to U visa applicants with criminal histories. The adjudicator wants to see rehabilitation. Even if a case was dismissed, even if prior to the granting of the U visa, USCIS has been issuing requests for evidence to demonstrate that the applicant is deserving of discretion. Thankfully most cases appear to get approved, but it is causing unnecessary delays.

New U Application Forms

The I-918B Certification that law enforcement agencies must complete as part of the U visa application underwent a major revision recently. Most noticeably, it got rid of “other” when asking the certifying officer to classify the qualifying crime. This could make it harder to obtain the necessary signature because certifiers may feel constrained or to check a crime that doesn’t truly fit what happened. Many certifiers liked “other” because it allowed them to sign the form and clarify the situation

The I-918A Supplement is for derivative family members and also has a new change. In the past, if the derivative applicant was outside of the United States, they didn’t need to sign the form. USCIS is now requiring the original signature of the derivative applicant – making it costlier and time-consuming for applicants.

U Applicants with Removal Orders

If someone files for U status while in removal proceedings, it may be difficult to remain in the United States while the application awaits adjudication. Up until recently, having a pending U application was enough to have ICE exercise discretion and allow someone to stay in the United States. Unfortunately, we’re seeing fewer and fewer stays of removal granted since ICE’s policy right now is that U visa applicants are “welcome to wait outside.”

There are a lot of small changes happening every day that impact our clients. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but we can promise to fight, to force USCIS and ICE to adhere to the law, and to continue to advocate for just and common sense immigration policy.