Can I legally work in the U.S. after filing for U visa?
When you file for a U Visa, you have simply applied to get the visa. It does not necessarily mean that you will get the Visa. Therefore, you cannot legally work in the U.S. immediately after filing for U visa application. But you and your dependents will eventually be able to work once some steps have been completed with your application. It can be a long process, though.
First, you will need to wait for USCIS to review your U visa application. USCIS is the immigration agency that decides whether you are eligible to receive this type of Visa. Please read the question and answer on eligibility to determine what is required (hyperlink to that question).
Because USCIS only offers a limited amount of Visas each year, and they often run out before the end of the year, it is possible that at the time you file the application, no more visas are getting awarded. If there is no visa available, due to the U Visa cap, USCIS will place you on a waiting list for U visa status and grant you what is called a 2 year-deferred action in the meantime. Once the USCIS grants you the 2 year deferred action, you will receive a letter from USCIS letting you know that you have received the status (category (c)(14)).
After that, if you are the principal applicant and you are currently living in the US, you may file for Work Authorization (I-765) under the c(14) category. In order to get the work authorization you must file a form known as Form I-765 together with a document that states that USCIS has granted you the deferred action. In addition, you will need to offer proof that you have an economic necessity to work. The economic necessity to work will be determined by evaluating your current annual income, expenses and value of your assets.
If you are outside the US when filing your U visa application, you will not be eligible to obtain a work authorization under the deferred action.
How about my dependents? Will they be able to legally work?
If your family members applied for a U Visa based on your victim status, they could also become eligible for work authorizations that would permit them to work legally in the U.S. Just like the main U Visa applicant, they will have to be currently living in the United States in order to apply for work authorizations. They will have to submit Form I-765 twice. The first one will help them obtain work authorization under deferred action (c14 eligibility category), while the second one will be necessary once the U Visa status is granted (a20 eligibility category). In order to save some time, your dependents can file them together, although the second one will come in handy maybe years later.
What are the costs of obtaining the work permit?
The filing fee for the work visa authorization processing is currently $410, however you are eligible to request a fee waiver by filing Form I-912.
Am I set to go once I receive the work permit?
Once you receive your work permit you should go to the nearest social security office with your employment authorization card and request a social security number, if you don’t already have one. Upon receipt of the social security number, you can work lawfully as long as the employment authorization is valid. The deferred action status and work permit have a 2-year expiration date. If the U visa has not been meanwhile approved, you will have to apply for a work authorization renewal by filing the same I-765 forms.
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