U nonimmigrant status, commonly known as the “U Visa,” is available to individuals who were victims of a qualifying crime and have suffered substantial abuse as a result of the crime, among other requirements.

Applicants for U Visas may also apply for derivative U nonimmigrant status for their qualifying family members. Qualifying family members include:

If the principal applicant is:

Under 21 years of age: Spouse, children (unmarried, under 21 years of age), parents, and siblings (unmarried, under 18 years of age)

Older than 21 years of age: Spouse, children (unmarried, under 21 years of age)

Applicants for U Visas wait many months, often years, to receive a decision from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). There are several reasons for the long wait including the annual limit on visas and the quantity of applications received by USCIS.

Each year, there are only 10,000 U Visas available for principal applicants. However, USCIS receives more applications than visas each year. For example, in FY 2015 (October 2014 through September 2015), USCIS received over 30,000 U Visa applications. The quantity of applications received has only continued to increase each year.

If an application for a U Visa is approved and a U Visa is available, the visa will be issued. If an application is approved and visas are no longer available that year, the applicant will be put on a wait list until a visa is available for them. The applicant could wait another year, or longer.

An applicant who has been approved, but is on the wait list and is living in the United States is granted deferred action. Deferred action grants them temporary status while they wait for their U Visa to be issued and also allows them to work lawfully. An applicant who has been approved and is on the wait list, but is living abroad does not have those same benefits.

The USCIS Ombudsman recently recommended USCIS implement a parole policy for these applicants who are abroad, and for derivative family members who are abroad. The Ombusdman provides impartial recommendations designed to improve the services provided by USCIS, among other duties.

Last week, USCIS announced it has agreed to the Ombudsman’s recommendation and will implement a policy starting in FY 2016, which begins in October, 2016. USCIS did not announce any details about the program, such as the requirements for an application or the duration of parole. However, additional guidance and forms will be forthcoming.

According to USCIS, the purpose of the policy is to ease process for applicants and derivatives abroad by providing them with an opportunity (parole) to come to United States. When they do, they’re able to assist with any ongoing criminal investigation as well as focus on rebuilding their life, rather than fear violence or harm in their home country.

The Ombudsman proposed several recommendations, two of which are still under consideration by USCIS. One is that the Vermont Service Center, which currently reviews U Visa applications, review requests for parole. The other is that an applicant be able to file an application for a U Visa and a request for parole simultaneously.

We look forward to learning more about this new policy and providing you with additional information as it becomes available.