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Biden Administration Expands Work Permits for U-Visa Applicants

The United States offers 10,000 U-visas annually to victims of crimes such as domestic violence, human trafficking, felonious assault who have suffered mental and/or physical abuse and are helpful to law enforcement investigations. You may be eligible to apply for a U-visa if:

  • You are the victim of qualifying criminal activity.

  • You have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of being a victim of criminal activity.

  • You have information about the criminal activity. If you are under the age of 16 or unable to provide information due to a disability, a parent, guardian, or next friend may possess the information about the crime on your behalf.

  • You were helpful, are helpful, or are likely to be helpful to law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of the crime. If you are under the age of 16 or unable to provide information due to a disability, a parent, guardian, or next friend may assist law enforcement on your behalf.

  • The crime occurred in the United States or violated U.S. laws.

When an applicant applies for a U-visa, they may also apply for employment authorization so that the applicant may work in the United States while waiting for a decision on their U-visa application. Historically, once the annual cap was hit, applicants with approvable U visa petitions were placed on a waitlist for a work permit. However, those in the pending queue were not eligible for a work permit and could be removed.

On June 14, 2021, USCIS announced it is establishing a bona fide determination process that will apply to all pending U visa petitions, as well as to all that are submitted on or after June 14, 2021. USCIS has the discretion to provide bona fide employment authorization to applicants who they determine to be applying in good faith for U nonimmigrant status. If USCIS determines that the applicant qualifies for a Bona Fide Determination Employment Authorization Document (BFD EAD), USCIS also grants the applicant deferred action. As explained by the agency, “USCIS conducts an initial review of Form I-918 and will issue BFD EADs and deferred action for 4 years to petitioners for U nonimmigrant status and qualifying family members if USCIS deems their petition ‘bona fide’, instead of completing a full waiting list adjudication.” The new policy will create a lower screening threshold that will give all applicants with a pending U visa petition the ability to work lawfully for years before USCIS substantively reviews their U-visa application. The USCIS “may grant work authorization to any alien who has a pending, bona fide application” for U nonimmigrant status.

The Biden administration has also pledged to make faster decisions about whether to grant work permits to new U-visa applicants. According to USCIS acting director Tracy Renaud, this will give applicants the ability to “work and remain safely in the United States while they provide valuable support to law enforcement to detect, investigate or prosecute the serious crimes they have survived or witnessed.”

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If you think you may qualify as an applicant for a U-visa, please contact us for assistance, we can explain to you what does these benefits mean to your life and how you can apply and if you meet the requirements.

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