How long does it take to obtain a U visa?

In my column This week's Consulta Migratoria® explains the benefits and processing times of the U visa.

Each immigration case is different. Please consult with an immigration attorney for personalized legal advice before beginning any proceedings.

This is the column:

In January 2015, I applied for a U visa because I was a victim of an armed robbery and was hospitalized. I have not received a response from the government and I am concerned about the delay. How long before I get a decision on my application? Can I have a work permit while I wait? Cristobal M.

Cristobal, I am sorry to hear that you have been a victim of a crime. There is a backlog in processing applications for U nonimmigrant status, commonly known as the U visa.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is currently processing U visa applications that were filed before June 8, 2014. You have to keep waiting because your application was filed in January 2015.

You will be able to get a work permit after you are granted U nonimmigrant status, or if USCIS grants you deferred action after you have been placed on the waiting list to receive one.

What is the U visa?

It is a nonimmigrant status granted by USCIS to persons who have been victims of crimes such as armed robbery, rape, incest, kidnapping, extortion, murder, attempted murder, domestic violence and human trafficking among other crimes.

To be eligible, the person must have been the victim of a qualifying crime that occurred in the United States. Must have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of the criminal act.

In addition, the applicant must cooperate with authorities, assist in the investigation or prosecution of his or her assailants, and may not have committed certain acts that would render him or her inadmissible to the United States.

Who benefits from the U visa?

In addition to the principal applicant, certain family members of crime victims are also eligible for a U visa on a derivative basis.

For example, if the victim is under the age of 21, you may file a petition that includes your spouse, your unmarried children under the age of 21, your parents, and your unmarried siblings under the age of 18. If you are over 21, you can only file a petition for your spouse and your unmarried children under 21.

How many U visas are granted annually?

Each fiscal year (October 1 to September 30) there are 10,000 U visas available for crime victims. There is no annual limit on the number of U visas that can be issued to derivative beneficiaries.

U visa waiting list

According to the most recent USCIS statistics released on December 23, 2016, 86,980 victims and 63,624 family members, for a total of 150,604 individuals are awaiting a decision on their applications for such a visa.

USCIS can only issue 10,000 U visas annually to principal applicants. The remaining applicants are placed on a waitlist if an immigration officer determines that their cases can be approved.

USCIS generally grants deferred action to individuals who are inside the United States and on the U visa waiting list. Deferred action status allows the immigrant to apply for a work permit that can be renewed while his or her U visa application remains pending.

Duration of the U visa

It is a temporary visa extended for a period of four years. After holding it for three years, permanent residency can be applied for, if certain requirements are met.