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This content was last updated on 2/15/2022

What is trafficking?

Trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery. Human traffickers recruit or kidnap their victims and force them to provide sex or work, whether the victim wants to or not. Traffickers often have so much control over victims’ lives that they can’t leave. Traffickers control their victims through:

  • threats against the victims’ family
  • violence against the victims’ family
  • threats to the victims themselves
  • violence to the victim
  • taking the victims’ belongings, including passports, IDs, money
  • physically locking the victim in one place
What does a T Visa do?

A T visa lets trafficking victims live and work legally in the United States for 4 years. After you have T visa status for 3 years, you can ask for lawful permanent residence (LPR), commonly known as a “green card.” You must apply for LPR status before your T visa status runs out.

How does immigration decide if I am a trafficking victim?

A trafficking victim is known under the law as a victim of a “severe form of human trafficking.” When deciding if someone is a trafficking victim, the government looks at if the traffickers used or threatened to use force, coercion, or fraud to control the victim. Some examples include:

  • you were physically taken and forced to provide sex or labor that you didn’t want to do
  • you were talked into providing sex or labor you didn’t want to do because the traffickers threatened you or people you care about
  • you were promised freed and legal work, but you were actually forced to provide sex or labor against your will.

Many traffickers keep their victims working by threatening to hurt or punish them. The threat could be made to the victim directly or actions can be taken against another trafficking victim as a warning of what could happen. Traffickers may also make threats to harm the victim’s family and loved ones.

Traffickers often threaten to call the police or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This is called “abuse of the legal process.” They do this to get victims who challenge them deported. Forcing people in this way to stay in a trafficking situation is called “involuntary servitude or slavery.”

What makes me eligible for T visa status?

To get a T visa, all the following must be true:

  1. You are a victim of 1 of the 2 “severe forms of human trafficking.”
    Human traffickers recruit or kidnap their victims to provide sex or labor known as sex trafficking and labor trafficking. These are the 2 “severe forms” of trafficking recognized by the government.

    Sex trafficking includes:
    • forcing people to take a part in creating pornography
    • selling or buying women as mail-order brides
    • forcing women or men to be prostitutes by giving sex for money or other valuable things.

    This can take place in different places, including brothels, massage parlors or family homes.

    Labor trafficking can be seen in many kinds of “workplaces.” For instance, domestic workers may be victims of trafficking if they are forced to work in someone’s home, as a maid, nanny, etc., when they don’t want to. Labor trafficking can happen in many industries like:
    • agriculture
    • processing plants
    • factories
    • janitorial and food services
    • nail salons
    • and more

    Traffickers may even force trafficking victims to beg on the streets.

    Labor and sex trafficking often involve what is called “debt bondage.” This means the victims are forced to work to “repay” a debt to the trafficker. But you never actually can repay the debt because the trafficker says you “owe too much” or keeps adding on new “expenses.” For instance, traffickers typically “charge” victims for their transportation to the U.S. and for their food and lodging once they are here. They make sure they charge so much that their victims can’t ever repay them. As long as you owe this debt, the trafficker won’t let you go. This often means there is no end in sight to being forced to do work you don’t want to.

  2. You tried to be helpful to law enforcement officials that investigate or prosecute human trafficking crimes.
    These officials can be ICE Homeland Security Investigators, FBI, state or local police or a US Attorney’s Office. 
    NOTE: It is important to know that you don’t need to prove this for a T visa if:
    • you are under 18. Minors do not have to cooperate with authorities. But you can if you want to
    • you have suffered psychological or physical trauma and the trauma makes it impossible for you to cooperate with law enforcement. In this case, you may qualify for the “trauma exception” to this requirement

    Everyone else must show that theyat least triedto be helpful with any“reasonable requests”from law enforcement.Whether a request is “reasonable” depends on the situation. Several things are looked at, including:
    •general law enforcement practices. This means what law enforcement usually does when catching and prosecuting criminals.
    •your experiences. What you went through with the trafficker and
    •your well-being – how you are doing with fear, and physical and mental trauma. They also take into account your age and maturity.

    If you are working with law enforcement, the easiest way to show you meet this T visa requirement is to have them endorse it.But, if law enforcement asksyou to do something you think is unreasonableand you don’t do it, you can still meet this requirement if you show you were willing to helpin other ways.In the end it is up to USCIS to decide if what they asked you to do is reasonable or not.

    Note: Many trafficking victims report their situation to law enforcement, but law enforcement decidesnot to investigate for a variety of reasons. The fact that law enforcement doesn’t want or need your help doesn’t mean you aren’t a real victim of trafficking. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get a T visa. USCIS recognizes this, and the law explains how youcan still meet this requirement without a law enforcement endorsement.Getting an immigration lawyer with experience in this is highly recommended.

    Victims of human trafficking can also contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s Hotline at 1-888-373-7888, or via text message to 233733(the numbers spell outBeFree on your phone).

    Contacting law enforcement on your own can be risky. The safest way to report your situation is through an immigration lawyer who does human trafficking work.

    Somelaw enforcement agencies may get ICEinvolved. If that happens, ask to speak to an ICE Homeland Security Investigator who specializesin human trafficking.But since ICE’s main job is to identify, detain, and deport people who are not in the U.S. legally,you could end up detained or deported. Talking to an experienced immigration lawyer is highly recommended.

  3. You are in the U.S., a U.S. territory, American Samoa, or at a port of entry to any of these places because of human trafficking.

    You have to prove that you came to the U.S. because of force, coercion or fraud and were forced to work or perform sex acts for money. If you came to the U.S. on your own and then sometime later you were forced or tricked into labor or prostitution, you may not meet this requirement. USCIS often denies T visas because victims can’t show they are here because of the trafficking. Talk to an immigration lawyer about your specific situation to be sure you can show that you came to the U.S. because of human trafficking.

    If you are here because you were trafficked to the U.S., you may be able to get T visa status even if you are not being forced to work or provide sex anymore. This is especially true if you recently escaped from it or were let go from the trafficking situation. If you escaped the trafficking a long time ago, you have to show you are still in the U.S. because of the severe trafficking you experienced. For example, if you are scared to leave the U.S. because the traffickers are threatening to hurt you in your homeland. In a situation like that, you may be able to get T visa status even though you are no longer under their physical control. But, if USCIS thinks you could have left the U.S., they may decide you no longer qualify for a T visa.

  4. You would suffer “extreme hardship involving unusual and severe harm” if you were deported or forced to leave.

    USCIS has a set of factors they look at to decide if someone would suffer extreme hardship involving unusual and severe harm if sent back to their home country. Most trafficking victims meet these factors because they are based on typical trafficking victims’ experience.

    To show extreme hardship, it is not enough to just show that if you get sent back, you will suffer:
    • economic harm, like not having enough money to survive or
    • social harm, like being considered not suitable for marriage or employment

    You have to show more than these 2 things. You need to show that you will suffer serious physical or psychological harm if you are sent back.Also, having better employment or social opportunities in the US is not a factor by itself.

    When getting your case ready,focus mostly on these 2questions:

    1. What do you need in the U.S. to cope with being a victim of trafficking that you can’t get in your home country?
    2. What willhappen if you go back to your home country?

    Think about the following when you answer those questions:
    • the details of the physical and psychological harm you experienced from the trafficking. What it was like and how much.
    • the support and medical care you need for the physical or psychological costs of trafficking that you can get in the U.S. but not in your home country
    • your ongoing need for help from the U.S. civil and criminal court systems, including “restitution” (suing to get money to cover your medical expenses and compensate you for you suffering), protection from the traffickers or help with the prosecution of the traffickers
    • laws, social practices, and customs in your home country that will likely harm you because you were a victim of trafficking
    • the likelihood that you will be re-trafficked if you go back and the failure or unwillingness of your home country to protect you from that
    • the likelihood that the traffickers or those working with them will harm you if you go back, even if your home country’s government tries to protect you
    • your safety will be threatened by civil unrest or armed conflict and
    • how your age, maturity, or particular circumstances make it dangerous for you to go back.

    If you have children who also want T visas, it may be useful to also talk about why they need ongoing support and care here that they can’t get in your home country

Canmy family get T-visa status along with mine?

Yes, the government can also give T visa status to close relatives of trafficking victims. They are called “derivatives.”

A trafficking victim over 21 can ask for T visa status for their spouse and children.

A trafficking victim under 21 can ask for T visa status for their spouse, children, unmarried siblings under the age of 18, and parents.

Under immigration law, “children” can sometimes include stepchildren. The step-child must have been under 18 years old at the time of the marriage between the parent and step-parent to be counted as a “child” in this situation.

What does it mean to have “continued presence”?

“Continued presence” is a way for law enforcement to make sure trafficking victims get the services they need as quickly as possible while letting them stay here legally. This is so they can help with a criminal investigation or prosecution. Continued presence is not the same as T visa status and it usually ends once the criminal case is over. Trafficking victims who want to stay in the U.S. should work with a lawyer to get T visa status while they have continued presence.

Who can help me get “continued presence”?

Only federal law enforcement can get continued presence for you. You have to either work with a federal officer or ask your local law enforcement or other agency to contact federal law enforcement for help getting continued presence.

What if I have contact with law enforcement while I am being victimized?

You might come into contact with law enforcement while you are still being victimized. Some examples include:

  • law enforcement and ICE may raid your workplace
  • law enforcement may arrest you for prostitution or some other crime the trafficker forces you to do
  • a state or federal agency may send officers to investigate workplace violations or other issues in your workplace.

If you come into contact with law enforcement in any of these ways, you might be able to find a way to safely report your situation to them. Even if the agency you report it to can’t investigate, they should know which law enforcement agency can help you and should report your situation to them.

**Note: T visa applications are very complicated.

If this is your scenario, we advise you to contact a lawyer. We do not suggest representing yourself.

After I apply for a T-visa, what documents do I wait for?

When USCIS gets your application, they send you a receipt notice. Then they look at your evidence and decide if you qualify for T visa status or not. They send you a “notice” that they have approved or denied your case. If you get your T visa status, they also give you a work authorization card (work permit).

If my application for a T visa is approved, how long does my status last and what happens when it expires?

T visa status lasts for 4 years. You must leave the U.S. at the end of the 4 years unless:

  • law enforcement states that you need to stay for an ongoing investigation
  • you show “exceptional circumstances” which justify a longer stay or
  • you have applied to become a legal permanent resident (to get your “green card”)
If my T Visa application is denied, will I get deported?

If USCIS denies your T visa application, you may face immigration proceedings known as “removal” proceedings (deportation). You go in front of an immigration judge. Immigration judges don’t have the power to give people T visa status, so there may be no way to avoid deportation. In the removal proceedings, you have to try to explain to the judge why you should not be deported. That can be very hard to do. You usually need a lawyer to help with that process.

To avoid having your T Visa application denied, it is very important that you file a good, complete T visa case to start with. Make sure you have all the forms and documentation that help to prove the 4 requirements. You probably need a lawyer with experience in trafficking cases.

Can I work legally in the US with a T Visa?

Yes. When you get your T Visa status, you get an Employment Authorization Document, commonly known as a “work permit.” Once you have a work permit, you can legally work in the U.S.


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