Learn more about human trafficking and T Visas.
Special thanks to American Gateways for their contribution to this article.
What is human trafficking?
Sometimes referred to as modern-day slavery, human trafficking occurs when there is forced labor, indentured servitude, or commercial sex exploitation, by means of force, fraud, or coercion.
Who is most vulnerable to human trafficking or more likely to be a human trafficking victim?
The most targeted populations for trafficking are homeless and runaway youths. This includes immigrants smuggled into the U.S. or currently residing in the U.S. who are vulnerable to exploitation due to their undocumented status. Some survivors of human trafficking in the U.S. may be eligible for a form of humanitarian relief called a “T visa” if they meet certain requirements.
Is a T Visa the same as a U Visa?
No. A T visa is a form of immigration relief specifically for people who have been victims of a severe form of trafficking or attempted trafficking. Trafficking includes labor trafficking and sex trafficking. A U visa is a similar form of immigration relief for people who have been victims of a qualifying crime within the U.S. who have cooperated with law enforcement agencies in the investigation or prosecution of that crime.
Unlike the U Visa, the T Visa does not always require a law enforcement certification. For a U Visa, a law enforcement agency must certify that the victim is cooperating with the investigation and prosecution. In the case of T Visas, the applicant must have complied with any reasonable request from a law enforcement agency for assistance in the investigation or prosecution of human trafficking. However, cooperation with a law enforcement agency is not required if the applicant was under eighteen years of age at the time of the trafficking or if the applicant is unable to cooperate due to physical or psychological trauma.
Who is eligible for a T Visa?
A person who meets each of the following general requirements may be eligible for a T visa:
- Survivor of “severe trafficking” (use of force, fraud, or coercion for sex trafficking and/or involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery); and
- Who is physically present in the U.S. on account of trafficking; and
- Who has complied with any reasonable request by federal, state, or local law enforcement to assist in the investigation or prosecution of such trafficking; and
- Who would suffer extreme hardship involving severe and unusual harm upon removal.
Talk to an immigration attorney about how your experience meets these requirements. Specific factors such as the age of the victim; location of the trafficking experience; level of trauma; and evidence available affect how each applicant must meet these requirements.
What do "force, fraud, or coercion" mean according to law?
The elements of force, fraud, or coercion are met in situations where a person is not free to leave. Force, fraud, or coercion can also be found when a victim is forced to act in a harmful way—which he or she would not normally choose.
People might be acting under threats of force, fraud, or coercion if they are doing something because they are afraid. For example, a human trafficker could threaten violence against a trafficking victim (or his or her family) or could threaten to report an undocumented victim to the police or immigration officials.
What does “extreme hardship" mean? Why is it important?
The United States upholds a humanitarian standard when weighing immigrants' reasons for fleeing their countries for the U.S. The U.S. generally won't return someone to their home country, or another country, if doing so would bring immediate harm, torture, or death upon the person.
The government will consider factors such as:
- Serious physical or mental illness that necessitates medical or psychological attention not reasonably available in the foreign country;
- The nature and extent of the physical and psychological consequences of severe forms of trafficking; and
- The likelihood that the trafficker—or another acting on behalf of the trafficker in a foreign country where the applicant may be removed—would severely harm the applicant.
Additionally, if applicants came to the U.S. escaping persecution that would otherwise qualify them for asylum, they need only cite the past harm to show extreme hardship.
What does it mean to "cooperate or be excused from cooperating with reasonable requests" from legal authorities?
Applicants for T visas only need to show that they made reasonable efforts to report a crime to law enforcement and that they complied with law enforcement’s reasonable requests for investigation. There are exceptions to this rule based on age and mental and physical competency. For more information, it’s best to talk to an immigration attorney.
If I did not become a victim of human trafficking until after I illegally crossed into the U.S., do I still qualify for a T Visa?
It depends on each case’s specific facts. An applicant must show that he or she is physically present in the United States or at a port of entry (such as a border) on account of the trafficking. Talk to an immigration attorney for advice.
Is a T Visa a path to citizenship?
Yes, a T visa grants legal status for four years.
After having lived in the U.S. continuously for three of those four years, T visa holders become eligible to apply to adjust their status to Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR or "green card"). Then—as soon as five years after being granted LPR status—the applicant may be eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship.
Can I work legally in the U.S. with a T Visa?
Yes. Once your T visa is approved, you will receive an employment authorization card that allows you to work legally in the U.S. for a period of four years. With your employment authorization card, you may request a social security number, as well as a state ID card or driver’s license.
Can my family also get a T Visa?
It depends. Generally, a T visa applicant who is under age 21 may apply on behalf of her spouse, children, parents, and unmarried siblings who are under age 18. If a principal T visa applicant is over 21 years old, then he or she may apply on behalf of a spouse and children.
Regardless of applicant’s age, if there is present danger of retaliation to family members due to the trafficking or the survivor’s cooperation with law enforcement, a T visa applicant can include parents, unmarried siblings under 18 years old, and adult or minor children of derivatives.
It’s best to talk to an immigration attorney for more information and case-specific questions about applying for family members.
Are T Visas always available?
Yes, but Congress is only authorized to issue 5,000 T visas each fiscal year. Applicants who are approved for T visa status after those 5,000 T visas have been issued go on a waitlist. Those on the waitlist get priority for the T visas issued the next fiscal year.
The cap of 5,000 T Visas has never been met. For this reason, T Visas may be more widely available than other forms of immigration relief such as the U Visa and VAWA.
This article will tell you about all the necessary documents to apply for VAWA relief.
People who have been victims of crime while in the U.S. might qualify for temporary permission to live and work here.