Shocking numbers have just come out on the rate of processing of U Visas for the first quarter, and the growing U Visa backlog. The numbers show that while the government approved roughly 10,000 U Visas in the first quarter of this fiscal year (which is the annual statutory limit), there are now just as many U visa applications pending as were pending at the end of last year.
On October 1, 2015 the new fiscal year began, and with that the USCIS was allowed to grant its annual limit of 10,000 U Visas. However, because there are so many now pending, the USCIS had more than 10,000 ready to approve when the new year began. The new numbers show that during the first quarter they used up all the U Visas that could be granted this year.
They granted 9,996 U Visas when they year began. But they also received 8,319 applications in just the first quarter this year. That puts them on pace to receive roughly 33,000 U Visa petitions this year, which is more than were filed in 2015.
If you’re interested in looking at the quarterly data, they’re available going back to March, 2012 here.
SO WHAT CAN WE DO?
That’s the question I get the most often about U Visa delays. And there aren’t really any good answers. If Congress doesn’t increase the number of U Visas that can be granted each year, the backlog will continue to grow. In theory, USCIS could deny pending U visas on the basis that they’ve run out of visa numbers for the year, but they’re not doing that (thankfully). I don’t see a way for a court to force the USCIS or the president to grant more visas than Congress says they can grant.
To at least bridge the gap for these pending cases, the practice at the USCIS has been to send “Deferred Action” letters to people if their U Visa looked approvable. But the current processing times report says they’re only now working on U Visas that were filed in May, 2014. And that date hasn’t moved in the last year.
So unless the USCIS begins processing U Visas again and starts sending deferred action letters in cases where the applicant clearly appears eligible, the backlog will continue to grow with no foreseeable solution. Only Congress can amend the immigration statute to increase the number of U Visas. But this is what President Obama once called “silly season” when he was running for office. We don’t see any meaningful legislative changes happening in the next year on this issue, unfortunately.