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Know the Laws:

UPDATED May 6, 2013

T-Visa Laws for Trafficking Victims

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The following information should not be considered as a legal opinion on specific facts or as a substitute for legal counsel.  Circumstances around human trafficking and applying for a T-visa are usually complicated and need a case-by-case analysis.  Please consult an attorney who understands the unique issues surrounding human trafficking BEFORE submitting anything to USCIS.  For more information about services for trafficked victims prior to obtaining T-visa status, you can contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center's Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or you can send a text to 233733, which corresponds with the letters BeFree on your phone.

Explanation of eligibility requirements

back to topRequirement 1: You are or have been the victim of a severe form of trafficking.

In the above question called Am I eligible for a T-visa?, we list the requirements that you have to meet to be eligible to apply for a T-visa.  In this section, we explain the first requirement in detail.

Requirement 1: You are or have been the victim of a severe form of trafficking.  What does “a severe form of human trafficking” mean?

Human trafficking has been described by the US Citizen and Immigration Services as a “form of modern-day slavery in which traffickers lure individuals with false promises of employment and a better life.”*

According to the law, a "severe form of human trafficking" has to fall into one of the following three categories:

  • Sex trafficking - This is when the victim (trafficked person) is forced, tricked, or coerced into selling sex acts for money or anything of value -- in other words, forced or coerced prostitution. (Note: If the victim is under 18 years of age, the law automatically assumes that the victim was forced, tricked, or coerced.)
  • Trafficking that leads to debt bondage / peonage – This is when the victim (trafficked person) is forced to work indefinitely (without any reasonable limits on services or time) to pay off the person who smuggled him/her into the United States.  Generally, the victim has no way to know when his/her debt is going to be paid off or how much his/her debt has been reduced by the work s/he has already performed.
  • Trafficking that leads to involuntary servitude / slavery / forced labor – This is when the trafficker uses threats or physical force to make the victim (trafficked person) work.  Traffickers could threaten to physically harm the victim or the victim’s family and loved ones, but may also threaten to report the victim to the police (for his/her immigration status, prostitution, etc.) if s/he does not continue to work for the trafficker.  The threats to report the victim to the police are known as “abuse of the legal process.”**
For more information on how “severe trafficking in persons” is defined by the government, visit the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division.

* U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website
** 22 USC § 7102(8) 

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back to topRequirement 2: You are in the United States, American Samoa, or a port-of-entry to the United States or American Samoa because of human trafficking.

In the above question called Am I eligible for a T-visa?, we list the requirements that you have to meet to be eligible to apply for a T-visa.  In this section, we explain the second requirement in detail.

Requirement 2: You are in the United States, American Samoa, or a port-of-entry to the United States or American Samoa because of human trafficking (known as being "present because of human trafficking").


To be eligible for a T-visa, you must be in the United States (or American Samoa or a port-of-entry into the United States) as a result of a severe form of trafficking.  In other words, if you came to the U.S. because of force, coercion, or fraud and you are now being forced to work (in a prison-like workshop or as an agricultural laborer, for example) or perform sex acts for money (i.e., prostitution), you may satisfy this requirement.  However, if you came to the U.S. on your own and then sometime later you were forced / tricked into labor or prostitution, you may not meet this eligibility requirement.  Please talk to an immigration lawyer about your specific situation to be sure.  You can find free and paid lawyers on our Finding a Lawyer page.

Note: You may still be considered “present because of human trafficking” even though you are no longer working under force, coercion, or trickery if you recently escaped or were released from a severe form of trafficking.  If you escaped from severe trafficking a long time ago, you may meet this requirement only if you remained in the United States because of the initial severe form of trafficking (if, for example, you were frightened to leave the U.S. due to threats from the traffickers).  However, if it was a very long time ago that you escaped from the person forcing you to work or engage in prostitution, and you have had the opportunity to leave the United States since then, you will NOT be considered present because of human trafficking.*  An immigration lawyer can likely help you figure out if you meet this requirement if you are unsure whether or not your escape / release would be considered "recent."  See our Finding a Lawyer page for free and paid legal services.

* 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(g)

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back to topRequirement 3: You would suffer extreme hardship if removed or forced to leave.

In the above question called Am I eligible for a T-visa?, we list the requirements that you have to meet to be eligible to apply for a T-visa.  In this section, we explain the third requirement in detail.

Requirement 3: You would suffer extreme hardship if removed or forced to leave.  What is considered to be “extreme hardship?”


T-visas are only available to trafficked persons who would face “extreme hardship” (unusual and extreme harm) if forced to return to their native countries.  To show extreme hardship, you must show more than economic harm (i.e., not having enough money to survive) or social harm (i.e., being considered not suitable for marriage or employment).  Just proving one of these will not be enough.  Generally, you will need to show a “likelihood” of serious physical or psychological harm.  Note: “Likelihood” means more than a possibility; it means that serious physical or psychological harm is probable.*

Factors considered in determining whether you will suffer extreme hardship if forced to leave the United States include:

  • Your age and your particular situation;
  • Medical needs (for serious physical or psychological illness);
  • Whether the government in your native country will prosecute the crimes committed against you;
  • Whether the government in your native country provides protection from human trafficking and the likelihood that you will be victimized again;
  • Whether you would be severely punished when you return to your country (by the government, traffickers, or because of social practices) for having been trafficked; and
  • Whether your country is dangerous because of war or civil violence.*
* 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(i)

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back to topRequirement 4: You have cooperated with or are excused from cooperating with reasonable requests from legal authorities.

In the above question called Am I eligible for a T-visa?, we list the requirements that you have to meet to be eligible to apply for a T-visa.  In this section, we explain the fourth requirement in detail.

Requirement 4: You have cooperated with or are excused from cooperating with reasonable requests from legal authorities.  What does "cooperating with legal authorities" mean?


If you are over 18 years old, you must cooperate with law enforcement authorities’ “reasonable requests” for assistance in prosecuting the trafficking crime.  Whether a request is “reasonable” depends on the particular situation; things that will be considered include:

  • General law enforcement practices (what law enforcement usually does when catching and prosecuting criminals);
  • Your experiences (what you were subjected to by the trafficker); and
  • Your circumstances regarding fear, physical and mental trauma, and your age and maturity.*
If you are under 18, you do NOT have to cooperate with authorities (although you can if you want to).

Note
: If a survivor of human trafficking has suffered psychological or physical trauma, and is unable to cooperate with law enforcement because of that trauma, s/he may qualify for the “trauma exception” and no longer be required to cooperate.**

* 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(a)
** 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15)(T)(iii)(bb)

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