The U-Visa was not managed properly by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and is susceptible to fraud, according to the latest report from the Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the Department of Homeland security.
Through the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act of 2000, Pub. L. No. 106-386 (Oct. 28, 2000), Congress created U non-immigrant Status. The main objective of the program is to protect victims and help law enforcement investigate and prosecute serious crimes. Various non-citizens who are victims of serious crimes or who cooperate with investigations or prosecutions of such crimes are allowed to remain and work in the United States through this visa program.
As the number of petitioners for this program increased, USCIS initiated a waitlist procedure in 2010. By 2014, it was predicted that the waiting time would be more than a decade for petitioners if the policies and processing methods are not changed. The waitlisted principal petitioners and their derivatives receive deferred action or parole and may apply for work authorization. For a brief period USCIS also used independent institutes to adjudicate the cases. USCIS, from 2017-2020 started reviewing the U visa petitions internally and were only available for OIG’s Audit team. Various recommendations were made to the USCIS to improve the quality of the adjudication process.
OIG’s audit found that USCIS did not fully address U visa program fraud risks. For example, the watchdog identified 10 USCIS approved petitions with forged, unauthorized, altered or suspicious law enforcement certifications. According to OIG, USCIS also did not track outcomes of U visa program fraud referrals.
The OIG audit also established that USCIS did not establish quantifiable and measurable performance goals to ensure the U visa program achieves its intended purpose. Additionally, OIG found that USCIS did not ensure its data systems accurately captured the number of U visas granted. Finally, OIG found that USCIS did not effectively manage the growing backlog of petitions. OIG said the issues identified occurred because USCIS has not taken steps to address and implement recommendations from previous internal and external U visa program reviews.
The watchdog’s report makes five recommendations:
- Implement additional controls that mitigate risks of fraudulent forms, such as requiring certifying officials to submit forms directly to USCIS.
- Improve USCIS data systems to ensure accurate reporting of U visas granted.
- Develop a plan to track the outcome of U visa-related fraud referrals and take steps to further mitigate fraud risks.
- Take steps to timely protect eligible petitioners awaiting initial adjudication due to the backlog.
- Enhance performance metrics to ensure the program achieves its purpose.
USCIS in its response, argues that robust controls to check fraud risks have already been implemented, along with upgradation to latest technology for better and more detailed tracking, including checking for complex case-level adjudicative actions. The agency also said it implemented a new U visa Bona Fide Determination (BFD) process in June 2021 to decrease initial review processing times, which it believes would address the fourth recommendation. In addition, it is developing a specific code for Employment Authorization Documents issued under the new U visa BFD program, which it expects to complete by September 30, 2022.
USCIS was critical of OIG’s audit in general, stating it misinterpreted the statutory and regulatory scheme; carried put a problematic audit process; asserted USCIS did not assist law enforcement; did not recognize USCIS improvement actions; did not account for the statutory cap in the backlog; applied problematic and misleading statistics; and other concerns.
We will regularly update the blog as soon as any new information is available.
This article, under no circumstances, acts as legal advice; therefore, for any immigration questions, please contact your Attorney or the Ahluwalia Law Offices, P.C. (Team ALO).