Crime Victim (U Visa) Backlogs Keep Climbing, Even as Petitions Fall

By David North on July 12, 2022

Here is a puzzle: Why have U nonimmigrant visa backlogs (for those aliens, usually illegal, claiming to be crime victims) risen every year since 2011, under three different presidents, while new U petition filings have fallen by 40 percent in recent years?

The backlog has risen from 13,372 in FY 2010 to 286,504 as of December 31, 2021. The approval of a U visa puts the recipient, usually an illegal alien, on a long wait list for green card status and a substantial, but shorter, wait list for a work permit. Only 10,000 new green cards a year go to crime victims. (Often the criminal is another illegal alien.)

My sense is that no administration is very enthusiastic about the program, including the present one. Here are the basic numbers:

All Recent Presidents Have Had Growing
U Visa Backlogs of Differing Sizes

Fiscal Year and
U Petitions
Pending or Backlog Avg. Increase
in Cases Pending
per President
2009 10,952 21,015  
2010 16,075 13,372  
2011 24,680 18,529  
2012 36,237 35,416  
2013 43,752 57,889  
2014 45,386 78,762  
2015 52,756 110,286  
2016 60,266 150,906  
2017 62,9901 192,243  
2018 58,991 228,764  
2019 47,225 255,945  
2020 36,448 270,074  
2021 37,164 285,255  
2022 38,1002 286,5043  

Source: “Number of Number of Form I-918 Petitions for U Nonimmigrant
Status by Fiscal Year, Quarter, and Case Status, Fiscal Years 2009 to 2022”
U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
1 Peak year.
2 Full year projected from first quarter.
3 As of December 31, 2021.

In general, the size of a petition backlog relates to three factors: 1) the number of arriving petitions (all else being equal, the more new petitions, the larger the backlog); 2) the difficulty of the decision-making (the more difficult, the larger the backlog); and 3) the resources available to make these decisions (the larger the number of adjudicators, the smaller the backlog).

The third variable also relates to how the administration in power feels about the petition in question. As we noted previously, in the case of naturalization decision-making, the backlogs increased during the Trump years and have fallen during the Biden years. Maybe the number of naturalization adjudicators should not vary by the party in power, but the rise in backlogs in Republican years, and their fall in Democratic ones, makes political sense.

But the politics of backlogs in the naturalization field are not reflected in the U visa arena; as the table shows, no matter who is president the backlog keeps climbing even though the annual number of new petitions filed has fallen by about 40 percent in recent years.

What’s going on here?

I think two variables are playing a role. Part of it is the ease with which decisions can be made about the two populations; another part of it is the political rewards (or losses) that come with the two populations.

The decision to approve an N-400 naturalization petition is relatively easier to make than the decision on the petition of a crime victim. The N-400 filers have already been through at least one screening process as they moved into green card status; they have been here at least three to five years since getting the card and they have paid a $725 fee; and they are already in legal status and they want to move up to citizenship. This is clearly an elite population, certainly compared to the crime victims.

Those seeking a U visa are (typically) going through their first USCIS screening, they may have arrived yesterday, and they have paid no fees. People seeking citizenship, to put it gently, probably have more human capital, on average, than those reporting a mugging.

The second factor (which may or not be present in the thoughts of the administrators) is the political rewards that come from the decision-making. Hours after the naturalization ceremony the new citizen becomes a new voter, in the case of the N-400 filings. On the other hand, with the U-918 (the U visa form) aliens it may be a decade or so before they can become permanent resident aliens, much less citizens.

The feeble argument for having a U visa is that it will help law enforcement regarding crimes inflicted on aliens; the visa will make it more likely, it is said, that the victim will come forward and cooperate with the police. But with the number of petitions falling from about 63,000 in 2017 to about 38,000 a year currently, that would seem to suggest that crimes against illegal aliens have fallen by a similar percentage, 40 percent.

Do other statistics suggest such a sharp fall in crime rates? I doubt it. A more likely factor is that many illegals do not feel very motivated to file for this distant benefit since there is so little interior enforcement of immigration law these days.

Further, I get the impression that the ability of any administration to increase the number of adjudicators is not unlimited; the Biden administration may have consciously or unconsciously decided to deploy more resources toward the naturalization process than toward the U visas, thus creating the current backlog situations.