U-visa applicants are suing over processing delays. Here’s what you should know.
Snails’ Pace in a Snails’ Race
Claims that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has unreasonably delayed U-visa approval at the risk of deportation raise concerns over whether the agency can handle the demand.
Four plaintiffs in the case have been waiting for approval and face possible deportation if they are not approved. Three judges from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the plaintiffs against the USCIS, claiming that the delays were due to a backlog of cases.
According to the USCIS, a backlog of over 160,000 U-visa applications complicate the process and create delays. However, these delays aren’t a few months or a year – many applicants have been waitlisted for up to five years.
The Circuit court judges see these delays as part of a more significant issue that goes far beyond these four cases. Delays are bad enough, but after several years, there are questions about efficiency and prioritization. Circuit Judge Karen Nelson Moore says,
”We find it unhelpful to fixate on the average snail’s pace when comparing snails against snails in a snails’ race.”
For those who apply for a U-visa, the USCIS may authorize work visas so the applicant can work legally in the U.S. while they wait for the final decision on their case. All four plaintiffs applied for work visas that they have never received or been approved for.
It’s also important to note that U-visas are unique in that they provide status to victims of horrific crimes. Because of this, there are concerns that applicants who have been waitlisted and those waiting to be waitlisted may be in danger due to delays.
There is a cap on the number of U-visas awarded each year, but the four plaintiffs, in this case, applied in 2016 and 2018 and haven’t been put on the waiting list.
6th Circuit Decision
The 6th Circuit court reversed two previous decisions because placement on the waiting list is mandatory under DHS regulations which gives the court the right to hear the cases. The court also opposed a rule from the government that agency delays are justifiable if they are extensive.
The court believes that waiting for years to hear back from the USCIS is unreasonable, and the plaintiffs should be given a chance to have their cases heard.
What Does This Mean for Other Applicants?
The four plaintiffs in Barrios Garcia v. Department of Homeland Security, No. 21-1037 are not the only applicants affected by delays. Hundreds if not thousands of migrants seeking immigration status have been left to wait for years to be put on a waitlist much less receive approval. This case could help other applicants get the attention they deserve.
By giving the court authority to hear these cases, the USCIS cannot continue to justify extreme delays. Hopefully, this case will hold immigration officials responsible and improve conditions for applicants seeking refuge through the American immigration system.