We’re happy to inform you of two significant changes relating to U nonimmigrant benefits, also known as “U visas.” The U visa is for victims of certain crimes who suffered harm and have been helpful to law enforcement.
Work permit for pending U visa applications
USCIS announced that victims of crime with pending U visa applications could be eligible for a work permit sooner than later. U visa applicants have experienced long waiting times, sometimes waiting over five years for a final decision. During this time, these victims of crime are unable to work and are vulnerable to deportation.
As a result of these delays, USCIS said it would grant work authorization to individuals with pending U visa applications after making a “bona fide determination.” Under this process, USCIS will be conducting a comprehensive review of all its pending U visa cases. The agency will review each application to determine if the individual filed his or her U visa application correctly. It will also review the applicant’s background checks.
After its review, USCIS will send the applicant a “bona fide determination” letter notifying the person is eligible for a work permit if there are no security concerns. It will approve any pending work permit applications. We recommend filing the work permit application for pending U visa applications if the applicant has not done so already.
Please keep in mind: Filing a work permit application will not make the bona fide determination go faster. There is currently no information on how long it will take for USCIS to complete its determination. The agency must complete this review before the applicant is considered eligible for work authorization.
U visas for dependent spouses
USCIS announced that spouses of U visa applicants could apply for dependent status if their marriage occurred anytime before the approval of the principal U visa application. Previously, spouses who married the victim of crime after filing the U visa application were not eligible for benefits as dependents. Such dependents had to wait several more years until the principal U visa applicant became eligible for permanent residency to apply for legal status.
Under this new policy, dependent spouses now may enjoy the same legal protections and benefits as the principal applicant so long as they marry at any time before a final decision.
Chavez & Valko welcomes these new changes to improve the services and lives of victims of crimes and their families.