FUTURES Senior Advisor Karen Herrling explains how the new policy dramatically improves the circumstances for immigrant survivors of gender-based violence with pending U visa applications.
On June 14th, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) announced that it would provide employment authorization and deferred action for U visa applicants and their family members with pending, bona fide cases. This new policy dramatically improves the circumstances for immigrant survivors of gender-based violence with pending U visa applications. It allows them to work, be lawfully present, and aid law enforcement while waiting the full adjudication of their cases. Importantly, it also allows them to live a more normal life without fear from an abusive partner and immigration enforcement agents.
With this policy, the USCIS acknowledges and responds to the enormous number of pending applications and the massive processing backlog. Shockingly, there are more than 268,000 U visa applications pending and the wait time for review by USCIS verges on 60 months – 5 years! During this long and often agonizing period, survivors lack legal status and the ability to work and are exceedingly vulnerable to further abuse and deportation.
The Bona Fide Determination (BFD) process outlined in the new policy changes all of this. Now, if USCIS determines that a U visa application is bona fide – essentially legitimate and complies with evidence requirements – and that the survivor and family members warrant an exercise of discretion, USCIS will provide them with work authorization and legal status for 4 years with the opportunity to renew in 4-year intervals. The survivor and family will receive U visa status once a visa becomes available under the statutory cap.
While FUTURES applauds this new policy, it is not enough. The massive backlog of U visa applications impacts the policy’s success and inhibits survivors’ efforts to secure justice and move on with their lives. USCIS needs more resources, more staff, and more training so that employees can efficiently and effectively work through the backlog. Quite simply, Congress must appropriate more funds to USCIS so that staff can do their jobs.
Here at FUTURES, we applaud the advocates and networks who have worked tirelessly for years, alongside survivors of gender-based violence, to lift up this important issue. We thank the Alliance for Immigrant Survivors (AIS), whose Priority Principles Addressing Immigrant Survivors in Federal Legislation, recommended this change earlier this year.
Check out the resources at AIS and join them and us to Take Action. Call your Congressmembers and Senators and let them know that you support immigrant survivors of violence and their families and urge them to appropriate resources to USCIS so that this policy can be implemented quickly. Learn more about the new policy from the resources below.
 U nonimmigrant status provides lawful status to noncitizens who have been victims of certain crimes, including domestic violence, sexual assault, and who are or have been helpful to law enforcement in the prosecution or investigation of those crimes.
 By statue, only 10,000 U visas can be issued each year.