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US quickly reaches cap on visas for crime victims

December 13, 2013

McALLEN, Texas (AP) — The federal government has already reached its cap on special visas for crime victims, just a few months into the fiscal year, the fastest the limit has been reached since the U.S. government started issuing them in 2008, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The visas are meant to help authorities investigate crimes committed against people who are not legally in the U.S. and to provide a level of security to crime victims who otherwise might fear they could be deported if they come forward.

Some advocates say it’s a positive sign that the program is being used. It may also suggest that Congress should revisit the statutory cap of 10,000 on the so-called U visas.

The agency announced the cap was reached Wednesday, less than 2 ½ months into the fiscal year. The second-fastest year to the cap was 2010 — the first year it was reached — but that took 9 ½ months.

Although the cap has been reached, the agency continues accepting and reviewing petitions. Those initially deemed eligible are placed on a waiting list and will be in line to receive a U visa when next year’s allotment is offered beginning Oct. 1.

The visas were created in legislation passed in 2000, and the agency has issued them to more than 89,600 victims and family members since 2008. About 75 percent of U visas are granted on the basis of domestic violence or sexual assault crimes.

In exchange for helping authorities investigate or prosecute crimes, victims are permitted to remain in the country for four years and apply for a work permit. After three years, they can apply to be legal permanent residents.

Victims must first get a “certification of helpfulness” from a local, state or federal investigating agency or a prosecutor or judge, and some agencies may balk, at least initially.

This is the fifth straight year that the cap has been reached.

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