The U visa program, designed to aid immigrant victims of serious crimes, is facing significant delays, leaving applicants in a state of uncertainty.
Originally established to foster cooperation between law enforcement and immigrant communities, the U visa has turned into a complex process. Applicants must meet various criteria, including being deemed fully cooperative by certifying agencies. However, the lack of standardized definitions for “fully cooperative” has led to disparities in certification policies across states and localities.
The backlog of U visa applications is staggering, with more than 300,000 cases awaiting review. Applicants are often advised to remain in the U.S. during the waiting period, making it challenging to support themselves without the legal right to work. While a 2021 update introduced the possibility of a work permit, the process is slow, and most applicants still face years of uncertainty.
The waiting period leaves many applicants in vulnerable positions, exposing them to potential exploitation in the workplace. Instances of abuse, harassment, and wage theft become more prevalent when individuals lack legal protections.
Efforts to improve the U visa program have been proposed, including raising the annual cap on visa issuance and streamlining the process. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) acknowledges the challenges and aims to restore trust in the immigration system by opening new visa processing centers.