What is a T-visa and what does it do?
A T-visa gives temporary nonimmigrant status to victims of “severe forms of human trafficking” if they are willing to help law enforcement officials investigate and prosecute crimes related to human trafficking. However, if the victim is under 18 years of age, or if the victim is unable to cooperate because of physical or emotional trauma, the law does not require cooperation with police to obtain a T-visa.1
T-visas allow victims of severe forms of trafficking to stay in the United States for four years from the date the T-visa application is approved.2 However, sometimes it can be longer than four years if a law enforcement authority certifies that having the victim remain in the country for longer is necessary for investigating or prosecuting the crime, or if there are exceptional circumstances.3
An employment authorization document (EAD) is granted automatically with a T-visa. This means that the victim can legally work during his/her stay in the United States. There is no need to apply for separate employment authorization.4 T-visa status may also be available for immediate family members of a T-visa applicant. Immediate family members include spouses, children, and parents of applicants under 21.5
Note: T-visa status is also called “T-1 nonimmigrant status.”
1 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15)(T)(i)
2 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(c)(1)
3 8 U.S.C. § 1184(o)(7)(A-B); 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(l)
4 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(d)(11)
5 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(k)
What is human trafficking?
Human trafficking is the process by which one person (the “trafficker”) recruits another person (“the victim”) for the purposes of exploiting that person. The victim is generally controlled and held captive by the trafficker against his/her will. Traffickers use or threaten to use force, coercion, abduction, fraud, or deception to bring their victims under their control. Traffickers also take advantage of the vulnerable social or economic status of their victims to keep power over them.
Trafficking is a modern-day form of slavery. Generally, human trafficking victims may experience sexual exploitation, known as sex trafficking, or forced labor known as labor trafficking.1 Sexual exploitation could include acts such as forced pornography, mail-order bride selling, or prostitution. Forced labor generally comes in two forms:
- Bonded labor (also known as debt bondage): 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.2 The value of his/her work generally ends up being greater than the original amount of money “borrowed.”3
- Involuntary servitude/slavery: This is when someone forces a victim to work against his/her will, under the threat of violence or some other form of punishment. 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.”2 Forms of forced labor can include domestic servitude (i.e., being a housekeeper); agricultural labor; sweatshop factory labor; janitorial, food service and other service industry labor; and begging.4
I think that I am a victim of severe human trafficking. How do I contact law enforcement for help?
To be able to apply for a T-visa, you must be willing to assist with law enforcement’s investigation of the criminal traffickers, unless you are a minor or you have received a “trauma exception.”
It is possible that you may come into contact with law enforcement after a place where you are being forced to work is “raided” by police, after you are arrested for prostitution, or in another way. You do not have to wait for law enforcement to find you, however. If you are able to, you may decide to make a report to law enforcement to report that you are a victim of human trafficking by contacting:
However, choosing to put yourself in contact with law enforcement can be very risky. Depending on the policy of the law enforcement agency you contact, you may be referred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which can lead to being detained and/or deported. If at all possible, please try to connect with an immigration lawyer before contacting law enforcement. To locate a local attorney, please visit our Finding a Lawyer page and enter your state. For national immigration organizations, go to our National Organizations - Immigration page.
Instead of contacting law enforcement, you can contact:
- the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice at 1-888-428-7581. They may help you file a complaint and refer you to a law enforcement authority.
- 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: Once you file for a T-visa, law enforcement can provide a “law enforcement agency (LEA) endorsement,” which is also known as a “declaration of law enforcement officer for victim of trafficking in persons,” or a Form I-914, Supplement B. This is a statement from law enforcement saying that you have cooperated with their requests in investigating or prosecuting the case. This form is not required when you apply for a T-visa, and it does not guarantee that USCIS will grant you a visa. An LEA endorsement could help you make a stronger case to prove you should qualify for a T-visa.1 For more information on all four requirements that you will have to prove, go to Am I eligible for a T-visa? For more information on applying, see Applying for a T-visa.
1 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(f)
Is a step-child considered to be a child for T-visa purposes?
It is important to know that under immigration law, a “child” includes:
- a biological child;
- an adopted child; or
- a step-child.1
However, a step-child must have been under 18 years old at the time of the marriage between the parent and step-parent in order to be considered the “child” under immigration law.1
1 INA §101(b)(1)
What is continued presence status?
“Continued presence status” is for victims of severe trafficking who lack legal status but who are potential witnesses. In other words, if you have not yet assisted law enforcement, but will likely be able to provide useful information. It provides temporary immigration relief under the continued presence provisions of Section 107(c) of the TVPA, 22 USCS § 7105(c)(3). Immigration relief may include granting parole, voluntary departure, stay of a final order, or nonimmigrant visas (T-visas or U visas). Only law enforcement authorities can seek continued presence status. In other words, you would need to have a federal law enforcement agency petition the USCIS on your behalf for continued presence.1 For information on contacting a federal law enforcement agency, see I think that I am a victim of severe human trafficking. How do I contact law enforcement for help?
1 22 USCS § 7105(c)(3)