U Visa: Processing Times, Work Permits and Travel
- By Nisha Karnani
- January 07, 2015
- Other Immigration Issues
U Visas provide certain immigrant crime victims and eligible family members with legal status, a work permit, and the possibility of a greencard. See our prior blog post regarding qualifying for a U visa, “I Was a Victim of a Crime: Do I Qualify for a U-Visa?”. For those who are qualified, here are the most common questions we receive:
How long will it take for me to get a U Visa?
The law limits US Citizenship & Immigration Services (US CIS) to 10,000 U visa approvals each year, excluding derivative family (someone who may be eligible for a U visa because of their family relationship). As a result of the quota and increased filings, it has typically taken several months to a year for US CIS to review a U visa case, and it can take well over a year to actually get a U visa status. U visa processing times frequently fluctuate depending on US CIS case load, staff assignments and other factors. Thus, the timing of another person’s case is an unreliable prediction for how long your case will take.
Why am I on the U visa waitlist?
There is a 10,000 annual U visa cap, so US CIS will place approvable cases on a wait list. US CIS will notify you by mail if you are on the U visa waitlist, explaining that they can approve the U visa petition in the next fiscal year when a visa is available. The US CIS fiscal year begins on October 1st. While US CIS plans to approve the cases on the waitlist, they could change their mind if new negative factors come to their attention (e.g. certain arrests, misrepresentation, fraud).
Make sure you keep US CIS informed of any change of address and contact an attorney experienced with U visa cases if you have any concerns about your case.
Can I work while I am waiting for my U visa?
Generally, you do not get a work permit for simply filing a U visa application, but if US CIS places you on the U visa wait list (because of the U visa quota), you would be eligible for a work permit. US CIS gives applicants on the U visa wait list deferred action (or low priority for deportation), which makes them eligible to file for a work permit. Sometimes U visa applicants may hold or qualify for other forms of work authorization or status (e.g. based upon DACA, H-1B, H-4, L-1, L-2, OPT, pending green card, or certain deportation relief). U visa law and regulations are very different from other areas of immigration law, so be sure to contact a qualified immigration attorney to coordinate alternative status carefully and avoid unintentionally giving up an application, status, or work authorization.
Can I travel while I am waiting for my U visa?
You should not travel outside the U.S. while your U visa application is being prepared, is pending, is on the waitlist, or is even approved, unless a qualified immigration attorney has advised that you can safely leave the U.S. If you leave the U.S. while the application is pending, you will likely abandon that U visa application. If you leave the U.S. while on the U visa wait list, you will likely be stuck outside the U.S. until you are granted U visa status, and then face lengthy government delays and new waiver applications. If you leave the U.S. after your U visa is approved, you may jeopardize eligibility for the U visa-based green card, as well as face lengthy government delays and new waiver applications.
There are very few situations where travel outside the U.S. is a good idea for a U visa applicant or recipient.
Contact Antonini and Cohen Today
The attorneys at Antonini & Cohen have many years of experience with both straightforward and complicated U visa cases. We can help you with all your U visa questions, including travel, work authorization, eligibility for the U visa green card and filing for family members. Please contact our office at 404.850.9394 to discuss your case or click here to complete a contact form.