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Legal Information: Federal

Immigration

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Updated: 
September 18, 2019

How long does my T visa status last and what happens when it expires?

T visa status lasts for four years.1 You must leave the United States at the end of the four years unless:

  • a law enforcement authority certifies that an extended stay is necessary for an ongoing investigation;
  • you show “exceptional circumstances” justifying a longer stay; or
  • you have applied to become a legal permanent resident (to get your “green card”).2

For more information, see Now that I have my T-visa, can I apply for permanent resident status?

1 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(c)(1)
2 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(l)

I have T visa status. Can I work legally in the U.S.?

If the government gives you T visa status, you are automatically granted an employment authorization document (EAD) and you can legally work in the U.S. 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.1

If you asking for your family members (“derivatives”) to also get T visa status, work authorization does not come automatically with derivative T visa status. They will have to ask for work authorization and pay a fee for each family member’s work authorization.2 See How much does it cost to apply for a T visa? Can I get a fee waiver? for information about the fees.

1 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(d)(11)
2 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(k)(10)

Can I travel outside the U.S. after my T visa status is approved?

It is extremely important that you talk to an immigration lawyer with experience in T visas before traveling. Here are some problems with traveling:

  1. Even if USCIS approved your T visa application, you cannot come back into the US unless and until you go to a consulate to get an actual “T visa” to re-enter the U.S. You do not automatically get an actual T visa (needed for traveling) when you are approved for T-visa status.1
  2. If you come back into the U.S. with a different kind of visa, such as a visitor’s visa, after being granted T visa status, or if you come in without permission, USCIS may take away your T visa status. This may happen because the consulates are not sufficiently trained on T visas and may delay giving you a T visa or may give you bad advice and information.1
  3. Being outside the U.S. for more than 90 days at a time, or more than 180 days in combined trips, may prevent you from getting lawful permanent residence. This is the “continuous physical presence” requirement for T lawful permanent residence status.2 See Now that I have T visa status, can I apply for permanent resident status? for more information.
  4. If you leave the U.S. and then return, you may trigger new immigration law barriers (“grounds of inadmissibility”) that you did not need to deal with when you applied for T-visa status.3 If you leave the U.S., you should have your lawyer’s contact information in case you can’t get back into the U.S. without filing new forms. Your attorney could contact a national organization that is familiar with T-visas such as ASISTA for help getting these forms approved quickly.
  5. If you have T visa status and you already submitted an application for lawful permanent residence that is still pending, then you will need to request permission, called “advance parole,” before leaving the United States. If you do not request advance parole before leaving the U.S., USCIS will assume you have dropped your lawful permanent residence application and deny it.4

For all of these reasons, it is extremely important that you talk to an immigration lawyer with experience in T visas before traveling. An immigration attorney with experience in T visas should be able to determine if any of these risks apply to you. To find an immigration lawyer, visit our National Organizations - Immigration page and/or our Finding a Lawyer page.

1 See the Visas for Victims of Human Trafficking page from the U.S. Dept. of State
2 8 C.F.R. § 245.23(a)(3); See USCIS website, Instructions for I-485, Supplement E
3 INA § 212(a)(9)(B) & (C)
4 See 8 C.F.R. § 245.23(j); see Form I-131 and Instructions

Now that I have T visa status, can I apply for permanent resident status?

Someone granted T visa status may apply for permanent residence if s/he:

  1. has been in the United States for whichever amount of time is shorter:
    • a continuous period of at least three years after getting T visa status; or
    • a continuous period during the investigation or prosecution of a criminal case against the traffickers;
  2. has been a person of “good moral character” since first being granted T visa status;
  3. has complied with law enforcement’s reasonable requests since first being granted T visa status or would suffer extreme hardship involving unusual and severe harm if s/he were removed from the United States; and
  4. has not committed acts that trigger immigration law barriers to status (“grounds of inadmissibility.”)1

To apply for permanent residence, which is known as “adjusting your status,” you must file Form I-485, available at the USCIS website here.

Note: “Good moral character” is defined by a list of certain behaviors. The law spells out acts and crimes that, if committed, could prevent an immigrant from getting many kinds of lawful status, including lawful permanent residence for those with T visa status and naturalizing to become a U.S. citizen. The most common barriers to showing good moral character are based in criminal behavior.2 A lawyer may be able to rely on prior decisions (known as “case law”) by the immigration and federal courts to overcome these barriers. This is, again, an area that requires attention from an experienced immigration lawyer. To find an immigration lawyer, visit our National Organizations - Immigration page and/or our Finding a Lawyer page.

1 8 C.F.R. § 245.23
2 INA §101(f)

What specific federally-funded benefits are available to me?

Once you have obtained certification related to continued presence or approved T visa status, or a letter of eligibility if you are under 18 you may receive benefits from any federal program or federally-funded state program. Possible benefits you may be eligible for appear 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.)

Before seeking any of these federal benefits, however, you should make sure to first consult with your attorney or advocate so that they can check that the agency you approach won’t turn you away or call ICE to detain you.

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. State agencies implement the program. Apply through your local social services agency.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (known as “SNAP” or food stamps) – You use food stamps like cash to pay for food at most grocery stores. Apply through your local Social Security office. Here you can find your closest Social Security office.

Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)WIC provides nutrition assistance and education to pregnant women and families with children under five years of age. You can use WIC checks to purchase certain types of food and infant formula. You are automatically eligible for WIC if you are eligible for TANF, food stamps, or Medicaid.

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. Apply through your local Social Security office. Here you can find your closest Social Security office.

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 eight months following certification or eligibility.

Matching Grant Program – Volunteer Agencies (called VOLAGs) administer the Matching Grant Program 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. Here you can find survivor resources.

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 state agencies administer the program, you will need to contact your state’s local social services agency for more information. Note: There is a five-year waiting period after receiving T visa status before trafficking victims can access SCHIP.1

Medicaid – Medicaid is a government-funded health insurance program for people with low income and limited resources. Because state agencies administer the program, you will need to contact your state’s local social services agency for more information. Note: There is a five-year waiting period after receiving T visa status before trafficking victims can access Medicaid.1

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. Here you can learn more about Job Corps.

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:

You can find additional information in HHS’s Resource Guide. In addition, the National Immigrant Women’s Advocacy Project created a “map” where you can look up each type of benefit to see if an immigrant is eligible for that particular benefit in a particular state. The map includes cash assistance (TANF), child care, housing, driver’s licenses, and more. You can access this map feature on the NIWAP website. Also, they offer this information about all of the benefits that an immigrant can qualify for in every state displayed in a state-by-state list.

1 U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

What steps do I need to take to get federal benefits that I am entitled to?

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) to be eligible for certain federally-funded benefits.1

“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.2 See What does it mean to have “continued presence”? Is it the same as having T visa status? for more information.

Child victims are automatically eligible for benefits once the HHS receives proof that the child is a victim of human trafficking; 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.3

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.

1 22 U.S.C. § 7105(b)(1)
2 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Trafficking in Persons, Certification Letters
3 22 U.S.C. § 7105(b)(1)(C)(ii)(l); Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Victim Assistance Fact Sheet