[Update December 29, 2015] the USCIS has reached 10,000 approvals for the year. That means no more approvals until at least October, 2016.
[Updated December 17, 2015] The U Visa backlog is a topic of immense interest, because so many people are waiting for news on their pending applications.
If you believe the current posted processing date of May 7, 2014, then there is now a 19-month wait (although as explained below it’s a bit more complicated than that). However, we do have some information about how the Vermont Service Center is processing cases (and which cases may be approved this year).
The growing U Visa backlog is a result of the limit on U visas allowed under the statute, which is 10,000 per year. The USCIS has used up all 10,000 visa numbers for the last six years. The annual limit on U Visas will only go up (or down) if Congress changes the statute. I don’t foresee that happening this year or next year. So, many people are waiting for the lawful status they’ve applied for.
This blog post is intended as educational/informational only. Although I also represent immigrants with U Visas pending at the Vermont Service Center, this blog isn’t intended as “legal advice” about U Visas. If you have specific legal questions about U visas or immigration law in general, please call an immigration attorney.
Summary of Current U Visa Backlog Processing
Many people have asked how they’re current processing U Visas at the Vermont Service Center given the lengthy U Visa backlog. This is a summary of what we know now (which, as always, is subject to change if we learn something more).
Once the 10,000 U visa numbers are used up for the year, the Vermont Service Center keeps processing U Visa applications. But once a case is ready to approve, if there are no visa numbers left the USCIS is issuing “deferred action” status (or DAS). Applicants approved for deferred action will receive a letter that says so. An example of a deferred action letter can be found here.
Deferred action allows the applicant to apply for work authorization while they wait for the visa number to become available.
The new set of 10,000 visa numbers becomes available each year on October 1, which is the start of the fiscal year.
It is my understand that there are something like 95,000 U Visa applications pending.
1. For U Visa Applicants Who Haven’t Received a “Deferred Action” Letter
If a U Visa application which has been filed but hasn’t yet been sent the deferred action letter, the USCIS posts its average processing times online. Right now, the USCIS website says they’re “processing” visas filed on or before May 7, 2014. Here’s a screenshot from this morning, which says it was last updated December 15, 2015.
If an application was filed after May 7, 2014, then it is waiting to be adjudicated.
2. For U Visa Applicants Who Have Received a “Deferred Action” Letter
If you have already received a “deferred action” letter, the processing of your case now is going through several steps (and some of this is subject to change).
a. They are now processing DAS cases in order. Since the start of the fiscal year, 10/1/15, the U Visa section of the VAWA Unit at the Vermont Service Center has spent all of its energy processing cases that already received the DAS letters. They’re doing them in order.
b. Approvals of DAS case are likely to take up all of this year’s numbers. I’m told they are doing their last review on the cases that are approvable this year, which will likely use up all 10,000 of this year’s visa numbers. Most of these are cases that have been on DAS for over two years now, so they have to update the background checks (make sure the applicant hasn’t been convicted of a new crime, for example) and make sure their approvals are consistent.
c. Nobody knows how far they will get before the numbers run out for this year. I have gotten this question several times in the comments below. Unfortunately, nobody knows the answer. As recently as this week, I saw an approval notice for a DAS case that was filed in September, 2013. Does that mean all the September, 2013 cases will get approvals this year? Not necessarily. Background checks take time, and each case is unique. Here is my educated guess (which, again, is just a guess): if your application is pending, you received a DAS letter, and you filed around September, 2013 or before, there is a pretty good chance that if your case is approved, it should be approved with this round of visa numbers. If they run out of visa numbers, then they’ll just have to wait until next year.
Should You Submit an Inquiry to the Vermont Service Center?
Almost always the answer is “no.”
If you filed your application well before the current posted processing time (May, 2014), then it might make sense to submit an inquiry just to make sure something hasn’t happened or the file hasn’t gotten lost. Otherwise, submitting endless inquiries to the VSC for the 95,000 cases pending there is only going to slow down the process, because a human being has to respond to those inquiries.
If you submit an inquiry and your case is not outside of the current processing times, don’t be surprised if the USCIS doesn’t respond.
What Else Can You Do?
There isn’t much more we can do to force the process along, but there are things we can do to stay ready.
a. Keep your address updated with USCIS.
b. If you have a DAS letter, you can apply for work authorization.
c. Feel free to check your case status by typing your receipt number into this page. Although it won’t change until they take action on your case.
d. If you want to check the current USCIS processing times, you can always go to this page and select “Vermont Service Center.” However, since June, 2015 the U visa (form I-918) has been set at May 7, 2014 (it said March 27, 2014 in July 2015 but quickly went back to May, 2014 shortly after).
You can also make sure your Congressional representative is aware that the U Visa is a valuable part of the current immigration law, designed to protect the most vulnerable and to help law enforcement do their job, and that the statutory cap needs to be increased.
Feel free to post your questions in the Comments below and I’ll try to respond if I know the answer.
[Note] This post was originally just a summary of the U Visa backlog as of July, 2015, but with the change in processing after the new fiscal year began (and given the extensive comments about how VSC is processing cases now) it seemed an update was in order.