SALEM, Va. – Immigration lawyers are seeing an uptick in calls after a new policy aims to help undocumented immigrants who are victims of crime.
This piece of immigration reform is what some attorneys are calling a “game-changer” for thousands of people.
Each year, thousands of undocumented immigrants work with police to help put criminals in America behind bars.
Many of these U visa recipients are victims of domestic violence and human trafficking and work with law enforcement to help prosecute these crimes.
Immigration attorney Rachel Thompson said these victims are putting their lives on the line for the better good of the community.
“Not only that, but if police need them to go to court, to be a witness, to provide more information they have to be willing to do that as well,” she said.
In exchange, the victims of the crime undergo a process to attain a 3-year work authorization with the hope to earn U.S. residency later.
However, it takes 5 to 10 years just to get the work authorization.
“It’s hard because it dissuades people,” Thompson said. “It delays cooperation.”
Congress created the U nonimmigrant visa program with the passage of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act in October 2000.
When the program was created, a cap of 10,000 people a year was put into place.
However, more than a year ago, petitions showed about 152,000 people are on the waiting list.
Additionally, there are another 104,000 derivative petitions pending which are the family members, like children and siblings.
The new federal policy aims to reduce the wait time for victims so they have more of an incentive to help law enforcement.
While this is a big benefit for many of Thompson’s clients, there is still no telling of how much time can be reduced since the policy was added just last month.
Thompson said she hopes to one day see Congress take it a step further and remove the limit to help more families.