Human trafficking is organized criminal activity in which human beings are treated as possessions to be controlled and exploited (as by being forced into prostitution or involuntary labor). Human trafficking, also known as slavery or involuntary servitude, is illegal.
Persons who are in the United States without legal status are often the victims of human trafficking. They are lured to this country with promises of steady jobs and big paychecks, and are sometimes convinced their family members will be brought here and cared for as well—or perhaps told their family members will be harmed if the victim attempts to escape or alert authorities.
If you or your family member is currently or have been the victim of human trafficking, you may be eligible to apply for a T nonimmigrant status (the T visa). Dedicated Lexington immigration lawyers like those at CF Abogados can discuss whether you are eligible for a T visa and help prepare and file the petition with the U.S. government.
What is the T Visa?
In 2000, the U.S. Congress passed the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (VTVPA), which created the T visa. The T visa provides a special immigration status to persons who are victims of human trafficking and who assist law enforcement in prosecuting their victimizers. If granted, it allows them to remain in the United States and eventually adjust to lawful permanent resident (LPR) status and then become U.S. citizen.
Only 5,000 T visas can be granted each year, though the limit does not apply to family derivative visas, which are visas granted to family members of persons determined eligible for T visas. Once 5,000 T visas have been granted in any year, applicants are placed on a waiting list, and those on the waiting list are given priority in the next year to submit their applications.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) handles the T visa process. USCIS is a part of the Department of Homeland Security.
How is Trafficking Defined for Purposes of Getting a T Visa?
Federal law defines and divides trafficking into two categories:
- sex trafficking, which is defined as the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act where the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or the person being induced to perform such act is under 18 years of age, and
- labor trafficking, which is defined as the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.
Non-citizens who are victims of these types of trafficking may be eligible for a T visa.
How Does Someone Become Eligible for the T Visa?
To qualify for a T visa, non-citizens must:
- be determined to be a victim of trafficking, as defined by law;
- be physically present in the United States, American Samoa, or the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, or at a port of entry due to trafficking;
- comply with any reasonable request from law enforcement for assistance in the investigation or prosecution of human trafficking;
- be able to demonstrate they would suffer extreme hardship involving unusual and severe harm if they were removed (i.e., deported) from the United States; and
- be admissible to the United States—although those not admissible can apply for a waiver by applying for Advance Permission to Enter as a Non-Immigrant.
Someone under the age of 18 or who is unable to cooperate with law enforcement because of physical or psychological trauma may qualify for the T visa without having to assist in an investigation or prosecution.
What Happens after Someone Is Granted a T Visa?
Persons who are granted a T visa are also granted an employment authorization document (EAD) (i.e., a work permit). This allows T visa holders to work legally in the United States. Once the T visa is granted, it remains valid for four years.
After the T visa holder has held T visa status for three years, the holder may apply for LPR status and a green card. To qualify for the green card, the T visa holder must:
- be physically present in the United States continuously for at least three years in T nonimmigrant status;
- have maintained good moral character during their stay in the United States;
- have complied with any reasonable request for assistance in the investigation or prosecution of the trafficking charges;
- demonstrate they would suffer extreme hardship involving unusual and severe harm if they were removed from the United States;
- be admissible to the United States as an LPR.
A T visa holder cannot apply for a green card until they have been in T nonimmigrant status for three years, unless the investigation or prosecution of the trafficking case is completed in less than three years, and the Attorney General is able to certify the case has been completed.
Victims of trafficking may also be able to receive the same types of federally funded benefits that refugees—people who have been persecuted or fear they will be persecuted because of race, religion, nationality, and/or membership in a particular social group or political opinion—receive, regardless of their immigration status, if they become certified by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Is There Help Available for a Victim to Apply for the T Visa?
If you are a non-citizen in the United States and you or your loved one has been the victim of human trafficking, you need to talk with dedicated Kentucky immigration attorneys like those at CF Abogados. They will listen to the facts of your case, help you determine if you are eligible to apply for a T visa, and help you with the application process.
Human trafficking is illegal and the U.S. government wants to put an end to it. You should call CF Abogados today at (859) 838-1413 or fill out their online contact form to find out what you can do to protect yourself and your family while you help the U.S. government in its fight to stop human trafficking.