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USCIS to Offer U Visa Applicants Work Permits as Wait Times Increase

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USCIS to Offer U Visa Applicants Work Permits as Wait Times Increase

On June 14, 2021, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) updated its Policy Manual to allow for certain U nonimmigrant visa applicants the chance to obtain an employment authorization document, or “work permit.”

While the U visa is a potential pathway to permanent residency, unprecedented wait times over the last few years have hindered the application process. The new Bona Fide Determination procedure outlined in a June USCIS policy update aims to abate the consequences of those wait times.

The U nonimmigrant visa, commonly called a U visa or victim visa, offers temporary immigration benefits to victims of certain crimes who “are helpful to law enforcement or government officials in the prosecution or investigation of criminal activity.” U visa applicants must obtain a signed “certification” from the law enforcement agency in charge of the investigation proving they were helpful and cooperative before submitting their case to USCIS.

High volumes of applications have led U visa petitioners to wait approximately five years before receiving the determination needed to be granted work permits or deferred action. Official USCIS statistics show that 161,708 U visa applications are pending with the agency as of November 2020.

This month’s update to the policy implements a new procedure, Bona Fide Determination (BFD), which quickens the process by which U visa petitioners receive work permits and deferred action. It allows USCIS to issue benefits to cases on extensive waitlists determined to be “bona fide” — made in good faith and without intent of deceit or fraud. Under the new policy, petitioners and families of petitioners with pending U visa applications can receive a work permit valid for four years without the extensive wait time.

USCIS’s new policy states that those who do not receive work permits and deferred action under the new procedures will have their cases continue on the traditional route — if their cases are approved, they’ll be placed on a waitlist. Principal applicants and their qualifying family members on the waitlist receive deferred action. These individuals may also apply for a four-year work permit. The policy also modifies eligibility as determined by marital status; it will evaluate whether a marriage existed at the time the principal application was favorably adjudicated, rather than when the application was filed.

The agency will periodically update and review background checks to determine whether BFD recipients may keep their work permits and deferred action.

Ibrahim Law Office continues to monitor the status of USCIS’s policies. We report changes and updates that impact our clients. Contact Ibrahim Law Office for an immigration consultation today.

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