Victims of human trafficking are in an extremely vulnerable position. Not only are they kept in a state of modern slavery, but many of them are in the U.S. illegally. That means they have unique challenges that prevent them from escaping their situation.
The T Nonimmigrant Status Visa was created specifically to help victims of human trafficking. This visa gives victims a path to legal status, and can help make sure they’re taken care of while their criminal case is processing.
Human Trafficking in Virginia
Statistics and methods
Virginia ranks in the top 15 states in human trafficking cases, partly because of its location. Interstate 64 and interstate 95 both run right through Virginia, making it a convenient meeting point. Human traffickers often prey upon those who either are in the U.S. illegally, or who want to come the U.S. to seek better opportunities.
Traffickers will often use coercion or even force to obtain slaves. These victims are used for sex, free labor, or both.
It’s important to note that most cases of human trafficking aren’t discovered because the victim comes forward. Instead, a member of the community usually reports it to the authorities.
Because of this statistic, Virginia passed legislation in 2017 to require more training for school counselors and nurses on how to recognize a victim of human trafficking. It’s important that citizens speak out if they suspect human trafficking. It’s also important that victims, especially victims who are in the U.S. illegally, understand their rights.
Getting Out – the First Steps
If you are a victim, or you need to report a suspicion of human trafficking, the first step is to go to the police.
- 911 emergency – If you feel that someone is in immediate danger, or you need to get out of your situation right away, call 911.
- The National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-888-373-7888 – These trained professionals know the law and the dangers associated with human trafficking. The operators are multilingual, so those with limited English can get help.
T Nonimmigrant Status Visa
Because immigrants are especially vulnerable to human trafficking, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has created a way to help victims who are in the U.S. illegally. It’s called the T Nonimmigrant Status Visa.
This visa can help victims and their immediate family members obtain legal status in the U.S. while the courts process their case. Holders of the T Visa can also seek employment, qualify for federal and state benefits, and even file for permanent residency down the line.
However, the T visa is generally reserved for victims of a “severe form of human trafficking.” The USCIS defines severe trafficking in two ways:
- Sex Trafficking – Severe sex trafficking refers to someone forcing another person to perform sex acts for money. This can be by actual force, coercion, or fraud. If the victim is under 18, it is considered especially severe.
- Labor Trafficking – This refers to forcing another person to be a servant or provide labor without pay. This includes “debt bondage,” where the victim must work to pay off an imaginary debt. Often the trafficker will tell them they have to work to pay for their journey overseas, their documents, or some other ambiguous expense.
Note that the “trafficker” is anyone who is involved in any part of the process. Whether the person recruits, harbors, or patronizes the victim – they are guilty of human trafficking.
Qualifying for the T Visa
If you are a victim of human trafficking, you are eligible to apply for a T Visa if you:
- Are currently in the U.S., a U.S. territory, or at a U.S. port of entry.
- “Comply with any reasonable request from a law enforcement agency for assistance in the investigation or prosecution of human trafficking (unless you are under the age of 18 or are unable due to physical or psychological trauma.”
- Can show that leaving the United States will cause you extreme hardship.
Note that law enforcement will only make reasonable requests. Especially if you’re under 18, disabled, or emotionally unable, they will only ask for small things like a statement for their criminal case.
Finally, you can only qualify for the T visa if you’re already admissible to the U.S. If you entered, or were brought in, unlawfully, you should also file For I-192, Application for Advanced Permission to Enter as a Nonimmigrant. This form is a waiver of inadmissibility that victims of human trafficking have a strong case for filing for.
Applying for the T Visa
There are some forms and documents that you’ll have to file along with your application for the T Visa. Here are the steps to filing for a T visa:
- Submit form I-914, Application for T Nonimmigrant Status. You will also submit a personal statement describing how you were a victim of human trafficking.
- If you are also requesting a visa for an immediate member of your family, you should also submit form 1-914, Supplement A, Application for Immediate Family Member of T-1 Recipient.
- Include evidence that you have cooperated with law enforcement. To do this, you can submit form I-914, Supplement B, Declaration of Law Enforcement Officer for Victim of Trafficking in Persons. Or, you can use other evidence, such as a police report or court documents.
There is no fee to submit form I-914. Also, you don’t have to provide the address where you live. For safety and confidentiality reasons, the USCIS allows you to use another “safe address.”
After you Obtain T Visa Status
Your T nonimmigrant status is usually good for 4 years. After you’ve had your T nonimmigrant status for 3 years, you also have the option to apply for a green card. This process requires that you:
- Have stayed in the U.S. for 3 full years while under T visa status (or at least until the investigation of your trafficker is complete).
- Have shown good moral character.
You must also meet at least one of the following requirements:
- You’re under 18.
- You would experience extreme hardship if you had to leave the U.S.
- You’ve cooperated fully with requests for assistance in investigating and prosecuting the trafficker.
In addition, your T nonimmigrant status will allow you to work in the U.S. and take advantage of both federal and state benefits. These benefits include housing assistance, English language training, and health care.
Victims of human trafficking often feel trapped and helpless. Victims who are in the U.S. illegally are especially vulnerable, since asking for help could mean arrest and deportation.
However, USCIS has created the T Nonimmigrant Status visa especially for victims of human trafficking, so they can have a way out.
This visa not only protects immigrants who are victims, it also empowers them to assist law enforcement in bringing the traffickers to justice.