RE: Significant Delays in adjudicating petitions for U Nonimmigrant Status

May 16, 2016
The Honorable León Rodríguez
Director, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Servicesv
Department of Homeland Security
20 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20529
cc: Maria M. Odom, CIS Ombudsman

Carrie Bettinger-Lopez, White House Advisor on Violence Against Women
RE: Significant Delays in adjudicating petitions for U Nonimmigrant Status

Dear Director Rodríguez:

We, the 307 undersigned organizations that work with or otherwise support immigrant survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, respectfully wish to bring to your attention the increasing delays in adjudicating petitions for U nonimmigrant status. It is taking at least two years for USCIS to process Form I-918 petitions for an initial adjudication to the waitlist, and it appears likely that these delays will only worsen in the near future.

On April 28, 2016, USCIS sent a letter to stakeholders acknowledging that some cases are taking longer to complete than usual and apologized for the inconvenience. To address this problem, USCIS indicated that it planned on reallocating the workload among different service centers in order to maximize resources and improve case processing times. If this reallocation of resources involves assigning VAWA, U or T cases to another service center, such a reallocation would be an inappropriate and unworkable solution in this particular instance. Adjudicators in the Humanitarian Division at the Vermont Service Center (VSC) have specialized training which is critical to their ability to fairly and efficiently review and adjudicate these applications. Given the importance of training of U adjudicators (and indeed the on-going need for this specialized training), the reallocation of resources to different service centers will not solve the delays in the U visa program.

VSC is currently adjudicating U nonimmigrant petitions that were filed on or before May 7, 2014, which means that it takes at least two years for a case to be initially adjudicated and placed on the U visa waitlist. This is a deplorable delay which seriously compromises the safety and well-being of applicants and their families.1 Equally alarming is the fact that there has been no forward movement at all in adjudicating these applications since April 30, 20152, which is over a year ago. We urge USCIS to support the VSC Humanitarian Unit to increase the pace of adjudications and reduce the growing backlog.

Date of Publication Processing Times “As of” Form I-918 U Nonimmigrant
04/13/2015 02/28/2015 03/04/2014
05/12/2015 03/31/2015 03/04/2014
06/15/2015 04/30/2015 05/07/2014
07/02/2015 04/30/2015 05/07/2014
07/17/2015 05/31/2015 03/27/2014 *
07/27/2015 05/31/2015 05/07/2014
08/13/2015 05/31/2015 05/07/2014
08/19/2015 06/30/2015 05/07/2014
09/14/2015 07/31/2015 05/07/2014
10/15/2015 08/31/2015 05/07/2014
11/17/2015 09/30/2015 05/07/2014
12/15/2015 10/31/2015 05/07/2014
01/13/2016 11/30/2015 05/07/2014
02/11/2016 12/31/2015 05/07/2014
03/14/2016 01/31/2016 05/07/2014
04/13/2016 02/29/2016 05/07/2014
04/29/2016 02/29/2016 05/07/2014
*on July 17, 2015 the processing time fluctuated briefly

The U waitlist and the grant of deferred action was created to provide protections to victims of crime and allow them to obtain protection from removal, as well as eligibility to work lawfully in the United States while they await a U visa. Delays in timely adjudicating these petitions undermines these goals, as illustrated in the following cases:

Lucia* is the victim of domestic violence at the hands of her spouse, with whom she still lives. She feels unable to leave her abuser because without work authorization, a social security number, or a driver’s license, she fears she would be unable to provide for herself and her children. She plans to escape her abusive relationship once she has the resources to support herself and her children. With current processing times, her petition is likely to be pending for another year or so, during which she fears she will be subject to more violence.
* All names have been changed to protect the confidentiality of the victims.

Talia was the victim of rape when she was just a teenager. Her U visa application has been pending for 14 months, and she would desperately like to visit her family abroad who she has not seen since she was attacked. With current processing times and the U visa backlog, it could take years before she is able to see them.

Fatima is the victim of repeated felonious first degree sexual assault as the hands of her grandfather, who was a caregiver to her and her three siblings while her parents worked to support their family. Her household has been ostracized by family members for reporting the rape. Now her father is struggling to support the family without adequate employment authorization, while her mother tries to support Fatima and her siblings’ healing process. Her family’s applications have been pending for 24 months, essentially stalled along with the processing times. Meanwhile, Fatima and her siblings have diminished family support and believe they may never have work authorization.

It is unacceptable that victims of crimes must wait at least two years for their cases to be initially adjudicated to the waitlist and then several more years before full adjudication. These significant delays leave crime victims vulnerable to removal and leads to economic instability and an inability to rebuild their lives following their victimization. We understand that the VSC Humanitarian Unit is currently focusing on other priorities, such as adjudicating I-918A applications for principals with U status and issuing U visas to those on the waitlist. Those are critical goals as well. Nonetheless, we strongly believe that the adjudication of initial U visa cases must also be a priority, the backlog must be reduced, and that USCIS must provide necessary support to the Humanitarian Division at VSC to enable this to happen as soon as possible.

Thank you for time and attention to this important matter.


See Full Letter from AILA website