On June 14, 2021, USCIS announced a new policy expanding access to work authorization and protection from deportation for victims of crime who have filed good-faith applications with USCIS. Before this policy change, work authorization would not be granted until the U visa application was decided by USCIS. As USCIS is taking close to five years to adjudicate U visa applications, this policy change is greatly needed. An estimated 269,000 U visa applications are pending before USCIS as of December 2020. It is unclear how many of the pending applicants will be issued work authorization.
The United States issues 10,000 U visas annually to immigrants who are victims of certain crimes and have helped law enforcement investigations or prosecutions. To qualify, the applicants must receive certification from a law enforcement agency indicating that they were helpful in the detection, investigation, or prosecution of the crime. Applicants must also show that they suffered physical or psychological harm as a result of being a victim of the criminal activity. If granted a U visa, applicants obtain a lawful status in the United States for four years and are permitted to apply for permanent residence after three years in U visa status. If the victim is over the age of 21, the victim’s spouse and children under 21 can derive benefits from the application. For victims under the age of 21, their parents and unmarried siblings under the age of 18 can qualify as derivative applicants.
DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said that this policy change will both benefit victims and promote public safety. He added, “These are victims who have come forward to help law enforcement keep us all safe, but who are in need of a measure of protection for themselves, as well.”