The U-Visa program was created to protect victims of certain crimes who are helpful to law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of the criminal activity. It can also provide lawful status for eligible victims and their qualifying family members.
Up to 10,000 U-visas per year are granted to principal applicants. Family members may also be eligible, which can bring the total number of beneficiaries to over 30,000 in some years. Additionally, the program provides critical support to law enforcement efforts, as it encourages immigrant victims to report crimes and cooperate with law enforcement without fear.
To be eligible for a U-visa, the applicant must:
- Have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of having been a victim of a qualifying criminal activity.
- Possess information concerning the criminal activity and be willing to provide assistance to law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of that criminal activity.
- Demonstrate that they have been helpful, are being helpful, or are likely to be helpful to law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of the criminal activity.
What is the Bona Fide Determination Process?
While the U-visa provides valuable protection to thousands of victims of abuse every year, the approval process can be extremely long. In fact, it often takes several years. In response to this serious problem, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) implemented the bona fide determination (BFD) process in 2021 to create a more efficient initial review process.
Applicants who receive a BFD can obtain employment authorization and deferred action, even while their U-visa application is still pending. By removing the fear of immediate deportation and enabling applicants to have financial stability during this lengthy process, BFD also positions recipients to better assist law enforcement efforts.
Who is Eligible for BFD?
All U-visa applications filed on or after June 14, 2021, by petitioners residing in the U.S., are automatically reviewed for BFD. To qualify for deferred action and work authorization through BFD, you must:
- Be the principal petitioner for a U-visa who has filed the proper forms and submitted all required evidence, including a personal statement, within the allotted time frame.
- Have filed the proper forms and evidence, and be a qualifying relative of someone who has been granted a BFD.
U-Visa Bona Fide Determination Process
Once your U-visa application has been filed, USCIS will perform a background check to ensure that you are not a threat to public safety or national security. If the background check comes back clean, USCIS will likely grant a bona fide determination.
USCIS determines BFD on a case-by-case basis. In general, BFD will not be granted if you have a criminal record, although a few exceptions do exist. Certain crimes, including immigration violations and misdemeanors, may be pardoned.
If, however, you have been convicted or even charged with an offense that could pose a risk to public safety, such as aggravated assault or crimes involving firearms, BFD will almost certainly be denied.
Although BFD grants you deferred action and work authorization while your U-visa application is pending, USCIS will continue to conduct background checks periodically until the U-visa is approved. If anything changes and USCIS determines that you are no longer eligible for BFD, it may revoke any benefits granted. Furthermore, receiving BFD does not guarantee U-visa approval. In most cases, if your U-visa application is denied, BFD benefits will also be revoked.
What is U-Visa Deferred Action?
U-Visa Deferred Action refers to a temporary protection from deportation granted to individuals who are awaiting a final decision on their U-Visa applications. This form of relief allows eligible applicants to remain in the United States during the adjudication process and provides them with an employment authorization document (EAD), enabling them to support themselves while contributing to the U.S. economy.
It's important to note that U-Visa Deferred Action does not grant lawful permanent status, but it does offer breathing room for individuals who have demonstrated their eligibility for the U-Visa and are waiting for approval. This temporary reprieve from deportation ensures that victims of qualifying crimes can continue to reside in the U.S. without fear of removal while their U-Visa applications are under review.
What is U-Visa Employment Authorization?
U-Visa Employment Authorization allows recipients of U-Visa status to legally work in the United States. In the past, U-visa applicants had to wait for visa approval before applying for EADs that enable them to seek lawful employment, support themselves, and contribute to their communities. However, since the inception of the bona fide determination process, U-visa applicants who receive a BFD can apply for a work permit while their visa application is pending.
Work authorization is particularly meaningful for immigrants who have faced significant hardship and trauma as victims of qualifying crimes, as it provides them with the opportunity to rebuild their lives in a safe and stable environment. With an EAD, eligible individuals can enter the workforce, secure job opportunities, and pursue their professional and personal aspirations.
Contact Yekrangi & Associates Today
Immigration laws and regulations surrounding U-Visas are complex and constantly evolving. By understanding the U-Visa requirements, the significance of Bona Fide Determination, and the potential challenges, individuals can better prepare themselves for the application process. All U-visa applicants should consult with a knowledgeable immigration attorney to maximize the benefits of the U-Visa and the bona fide determination process. At Yekrangi & Associates, our highly-skilled and compassionate immigration team is here to ensure that you have the best chance of success in obtaining the protection and support you need. Contact us today for a confidential consultation and to learn more.