The Immigration and Nationality Act limits the number of U visas that can be issued to U principal petitioners each fiscal year to 10,000. Once that cap is reached, petitioners are placed on a waiting list until new visas become available. For the past several years, the number of U principal petitioners each year has exceeded the available number of visas. This has resulted in an ever-growing “U visa waiting list.” At a recent Vermont Service Center (VSC) stakeholders meeting, the VSC reported that there are currently 24,000 people on the waiting list with deferred action. This number includes both principals and derivatives. There are 140,000 petitions pending for people waiting to be placed on the waiting list and receive deferred action.
During the past few years, the VSC has approved 10,000 new U visas in the first three months of the fiscal year. The VSC recently reported that in fiscal year 2017, it will handle the 2017 visas differently. Instead of a quick roll-out, the VSC will stagger the approvals of U visas over the first three quarters of the year. This was a strategic decision made in an effort to alleviate the long wait-times to receive deferred action, work authorization and to be placed on the U visa waiting list. There is currently a waiting period of over two years to even be placed on the U visa waiting list. Per the case processing times posted on the USCIS website on Sept. 15, 2016, the VSC was adjudicating I-918 applications that were filed May 7, 2014, for purposes of placement on the waiting list.
In an effort to alleviate the waiting list backlog, the VSC has begun transferring some I-918s to the Nebraska Service Center (NSC) for conditional approval and placement on the waiting list. In a recent stakeholder call with the NSC, it indicated that 3,000 petitions – including those filed by principals and their derivatives equaling 11,000 files – have been transferred from the VSC to the NSC. The NSC indicated that they expect to see another transfer of files in the first quarter of this fiscal year. If a case is transferred to the NSC, the petitioner should expect to receive a notice informing them of the transfer. To prepare NSC staff to handle U visas, VSC staff traveled to the NSC and spent six weeks training NSC staff on all aspects of U visa adjudication.
There are currently three U visa supervisors at the NSC. All Requests for Evidence (RFEs) and denials must be reviewed by a supervisor before being finalized. If you have questions about a U visa petition that has been transferred to the NSC, you should continue to use the VSC hotline for now. The NSC plans to introduce its own hotline for U visas in the second quarter of the fiscal year. CLINIC will continue to provide updates as they become available.