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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.

After you have a T-visa

back to topI have a T-visa. Can I work legally in the US?

Yes, if you are granted a T-visa, you are automatically granted an employment authorization document (EAD).  You do not need to fill out separate paperwork to get employment authorization - your T-visa application also acts as an application for employment authorization.

Note: If you are applying for derivative T-visa status (T-visa status for your immediate family members), you must apply for employment authorization for them separately by filling out Form I-765.

* 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(o)(10)

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back to topHow long does my T-visa last and what happens when it expires?

A T-visa lasts for four years.  You are required to leave the United States at the end of the four years unless either:

  • A law enforcement authority certifies that an extended stay is necessary for an ongoing investigation; or
  • Between the third and fourth year, you have applied to become a legal permanent resident and are granted permanent resident status.  Note: You can apply after you have lived in the US for three years with T-visa status but before the end of the fourth year that the T-visa is in effect.*  For more information, see Now that I have my T-visa, can I apply for permanent resident status? 
* 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(p)

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back to topNow that I have my T-visa, can I apply for permanent resident status?

As someone who has been granted T-visa status (also known as a T-1 nonimmigrant), you may apply for permanent residence if you:

  • Have been in the United States for:
    • a continuous period of at least three years after T-visa status is granted; OR
    • a continuous period during the investigation / prosecution of trafficking and once the investigation / prosecution is complete (whichever amount of time is shorter);
  • Have been a person of good moral character* since first being granted T-visa status;
  • Have complied with reasonable requests for assistance in the investigation / prosecution of acts of trafficking since first being granted T-visa status OR you would suffer extreme hardship involving unusual and severe harm if you were removed from the United States; and
  • Are otherwise admissible to the United States as a lawful permanent resident (in other words, you are not inadmissible for any reason listed under INA Sec. 212).** 
To apply for permanent residence you must complete and submit an “application to register permanent residence or adjust status,” known as Form I-485, available at the USCIS website here.  As a T-visa holder, you will also need to complete Supplement E to Form I-485.  For instructions on completing Supplement E (also available through the USCIS website), click here.

Note: When a T-visa holder applies for permanent residence, it may also be called applying for adjustment of status.

* "Good moral character" (as mentioned above) is defined under Section 101(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, available by clicking here.  If you have committed any of the acts listed in section 101(f), you might NOT qualify as a person of good moral character. The list includes but it not limited to the following: criminal possession of narcotics (except simple possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana), habitual drunkenness, repeated gambling offenses, a conviction of an aggravated felony, imprisonment for a total of 180 days or more, and lying under oath (giving false testimony) to get benefits available through the Immigration and Nationality Act.  Note: The USCIS may make a negative finding based on criteria not listed in Section 101(f) (in other words, the list is “non-exhaustive”).
** 8 C.F.R. § 245.23

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back to topAs a victim of human trafficking, am I entitled to federal benefits?

Yes.   If you are an adult victim of human trafficking (18 years of age and over), you can get “certified” by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in order to be eligible for certain federally-funded benefits.

“Certification” is available to victims of human trafficking (as defined by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act) who are willing to assist law enforcement in the prosecution of trafficking crimes AND either:

(1) Have completed a bona fide application for a T-visa; OR

(2) Have received continued presence* status from the Department of Homeland Security.

Child victims are automatically eligible for benefits once the HHS receives proof that the child is a victim of human trafficking (so they do not have to prove either of the two requirements above).  The HHS will then provide the child victim or the child victim’s representative with a “letter of eligibility,” which can be used to prove to social service providers that the child is eligible for benefits.**

If you have not yet been certified by the HHS (but you have reported the trafficking crime), you may still be eligible for certain federally- funded services and benefits including crisis counseling and short term shelter or housing assistance.  To locate service providers for uncertified victims of human trafficking, 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.

Note: In addition to government- funded programs, a variety of non-governmental organizations also provide information and assistance to victims of human trafficking, whether you are certified or not.   Visit Humantrafficking.org to view a list of non-governmental organizations by state.

* “Continued Presence” status is requested by law enforcement officials for victims of human trafficking who are potential witnesses for trafficking-related prosecution.  Only a law enforcement agency can petition the USCIS for continued presence status.
** Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Victim Assistance Fact Sheet

 

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back to topWhat specific federally-funded benefits are available to me?

Once you have obtained certification (or a letter of eligibility if you are under 18), you may receive benefits from any federal program or federally-funded state program.  We have listed possible benefits you may be eligible for below.  To apply for any of these benefits, be sure to bring your certification or letter of eligibility with you. (The service provider will verify your certification or eligibility letter by calling the Trafficking Victim Verification line at (866) 401-5510).  You can find additional information in HHS's Resource Guide.

1. Financial Help
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
– TANF provides assistance and work opportunities to needy families with children under 18 years of age.  The program is implemented by state agencies.  Certified victims of human trafficking (and victims under 18 years old who have obtained letters of eligibility) should apply through their local social services agency. 

Food Stamp Program – Food stamps can be used like cash to pay for food at most grocery stores.  Certified victims of human trafficking (and victims under 18 years old who have obtained letters of eligibility) can apply through their local Social Security offices.  To find your closest Social Security office, click here.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) – SSI provides benefits for people who are blind, have severe disabilities, or are at least 65 years old and have limited income and resources. Certified victims of human trafficking can apply through their local Social Security offices.  To find your closest Social Security office, click here.

Refugee Cash and Medical Assistance (RCA & RMA) – If you are ineligible for TANF, SSI, and Medicaid, you may be eligible for RCA and RMA, which provide cash and medical assistance for the first 8 months following certification or eligibility. 

Matching Grant Program – The Matching Grant Program is administered by Volunteer Agencies (called VOLAGs) as an alternative to refugee cash assistance.  It provides employment services, living assistance (including food or food subsidies, housing assistance, and transportation), and cash allowance. 

2. Health Care

Torture Treatment Program – HHS-funded social, legal, health, and psychological services for victims of torture.  To find survivor resources, click here.

State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) – SCHIP (also called CHIP) is a public health insurance program available to low-income, uninsured children under 18 years of age who do not qualify for Medicaid.  Because the program is administered by state agencies, you will need to contact your state’s local social services agency for more information. 

Medicaid – Medicaid is a government-funded health insurance program for people with low income and limited resources.  Because the program is administered by state agencies, you will need to contact your state’s local social services agency for more information. 

3. Social Services
Unaccompanied Refugee Minors Program
– This program provides resettlement and foster care services for unaccompanied minor refugees and trafficking victims.  For more information, click here

4. Employment
One-Stop Career Center System
- If you are looking for employment, Career One-Stop may be able to assist you.  Local centers provide information and assistance for finding employment and obtaining education and training.  To locate a One-Stop career service center near you, click here

Job Corps – The Department of Labor oversees this free job-training and education program for youths between the ages of 16 and 24.  To learn more about Job Corps, go here.

5. Housing
Certified victims of human trafficking may be eligible for public housing assistance.  Your local social services agency may be able to assist you in locating the proper public housing authority.

6. Other
State-Specific Programs
– States may have additional programs for certified victims of human trafficking.  Your local social services agency may be able to assist you in figuring out what may be available to you.

Note: The above information is adapted from the HHS’s Administration for Children and Families Victim Assistance Fact Sheet.  The fact sheet is also available in the following languages:

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