Requirement 1: You are or have been the victim of a "severe form of trafficking"
In the question called What must I prove to be eligible for a T-visa? we list four requirements that you have to meet. In this section, we explain the first requirement in detail.
Human traffickers recruit or kidnap their victims to provide sex or labor whether the victims want to or not, known as sex trafficking and labor trafficking. These are the two “severe forms” of trafficking recognized by the government.
Sex trafficking includes forcing people to participate in creating pornography, selling or buying women as mail-order brides, or forcing women or men to be prostitutes by providing sex in exchange for money or other valuable things. This can take place in many locations, including brothels, massage parlors, and family homes; for instance, a trafficker may force his spouse to prostitute herself to his friends.
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 do not want to. Labor trafficking may take place in many industries, including agriculture, processing plants, factories, janitorial and food services, nail salons, and more. Traffickers may even force trafficking victims to beg on the streets. 1
Labor and sex trafficking often involve what is called “debt bondage,” which is when are forced to work to “repay” a debt to the trafficker. However, you are never actually able to repay the debt because the trafficker says you “owe too much” or keeps adding on new “expenses.”2 For instance, traffickers typically “charge” victims for their transportation to the United States and for their food and lodging once they are here. The traffickers make sure they charge so much that their victims will never be able to repay them. 3 As long as you owe this debt, the trafficker will not let you go, which often means there is no end in sight to being forced to do work you do not want to do.
To understand how the government decides if you are, in fact, a victim of a severe form of human trafficking, go to How does USCIS determine if I am a victim of a “severe form of human trafficking?
1 National Human Trafficking Resource Center Fact Sheet
2 22 U.S.C. § 7102(7)
3 22 U.S.C. § 7102(8)
Requirement 2: You have cooperated with or are excused from cooperating with reasonable requests from legal authorities.
In the question called What must I prove to be eligible for a T-visa?, we list all of 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.
It is important to know that you do not need to prove this requirement if:
- you are under 18. Minors do not have to cooperate with authorities although you can if you want to;1 or
- you have suffered psychological or physical trauma, and are unable to cooperate with law enforcement because of that trauma. In this case, you may qualify for the “trauma exception” to this requirement.2
Everyone else must show that they at least tried to be helpful with any “reasonable requests” from law enforcement.3 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.4
For example, if law enforcement asks you to do something that puts your life in jeopardy, this could be seen as an unreasonable request. However, it is ultimately up to USCIS to decide if what law enforcement asked you to do is reasonable or not.
If you are working with law enforcement, the easiest way to fulfill this requirement is with the law enforcement endorsement. If, however, law enforcement has asked you to do something unreasonable, you can still meet this requirement if you show you were willing to provide other help.
Note: A significant number of trafficking victims may report their situation to law enforcement, but law enforcement may decide not to investigate the case for a variety of reasons. For example, law enforcement may believe that their resources are better spent on large trafficking rings rather than one individual’s case; or they may think other victims will be better witnesses in their case, etc. The fact that law enforcement doesn’t want or need your help doesn’t mean you aren’t a real victim of trafficking or that you shouldn’t get a T visa. USCIS recognizes this, and the law explains how you can still meet this requirement without a law enforcement endorsement. For example, a victim may be able to offer evidence such as trial transcripts, court documents, police reports, and other evidence if s/he can’t get a law enforcement endorsement.5 This is, however, another place where an experienced attorney can help you. S/he can help you contact law enforcement to offer your help, can “create a record” that you tried to be helpful, and pester law enforcement for a response, which the attorney will document in writing and share with USCIS.
To avoid USCIS denying your case and possibly putting you or your family members into immigration court proceedings, it is safer for you and your family to work with an attorney with experience in T visa cases. Use our Finding a Lawyer page to find a lawyer in your state. You can also ask one of the national immigration organization on our National Organizations - Immigration page to help find you a lawyer.
1 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(b)(3)(i)
2 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15)(T)(i)(III)(bb); 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(b)(3)(ii)
3 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15)(T)(i); 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(b)(3)
4 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(h)
5 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(f)(1)(iii)
Requirement 3: You are in the United States, a U.S. territory, American Samoa, or a port of entry of any of these because of human trafficking.
In the question called What must I prove to be eligible for a T visa?, we list all of 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.
You must prove that you came to the U.S. because of force, coercion, or fraud and you are now being 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 eligibility requirement.1 USCIS often denies T visas because victims can’t show they are here because of (“on account of”) the trafficking, so please talk to an immigration lawyer about your specific situation to be sure you can show you came to the U.S. because of human trafficking. You can find free and paid lawyers on our Finding a Lawyer page.
As long as you are here because you were trafficked to the U.S., you may be able to get T visa status even if you are no longer being forced to work or provide sex. This is especially true if you recently escaped or were released from the trafficking situation. If you escaped the trafficking a long time ago, you must show you are still in the United States because of the severe trafficking you experienced. For example, if you are frightened to leave the U.S. because the traffickers are threatening to hurt you in your homeland, you may be able to get T visa status even though you are no longer under their physical control. If USCIS believes you could have left the U.S., however, they may decide that you no longer qualify for a T visa.1
To avoid USCIS denying your case and possibly putting you or your family members into immigration court proceedings, it is safer for you and your family to work with an attorney with experience in T visa cases. See our Finding a Lawyer page for free and paid legal services.
1 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(g)
Requirement 4: You would suffer "extreme hardship involving unusual and severe harm" if removed or forced to leave.
In the question called What must I prove to be eligible for a T visa?, we list all of 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.
USCIS has a particular set of things they look at to decide whether someone would suffer extreme hardship involving unusual and severe harm if sent back to their home country.1 Most trafficking victims would likely meet these factors since 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, such as not having enough money to survive; or
- social harm, such as being considered not suitable for marriage or employment.1
You must show more than these two things. Generally, you will need to show that you will suffer serious physical or psychological harm if you get sent back. Having better job or social opportunities in the U.S. will not be a significant positive factor by itself.
When preparing your case, focus on how you can show the facts below:
- the details (“nature and extent”) of the physical and psychological harm you experienced from the trafficking;
- the support and medical care you need for these physical or psychological consequences of trafficking that are available in the U.S. but not in your home country;
- your ongoing need for help from the U.S. civil and criminal court systems, such as your need to:
- sue to get money to cover your medical expenses and compensate you for your suffering (“restitution”);
- get protection from the traffickers; or
- help with the prosecution of thee traffickers;
- laws, social practices, and customs in your home country that will likely harm you because you were a victim of trafficking; for example, the traffickers are powerful in your home country; or you will be excluded, hated, or harmed because you helped hold the traffickers accountable by cooperating with law enforcement;
- the likelihood that you will be re-trafficked if you go back and the inability 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, regardless of whether the home country’s government will try 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. 1
As you can see, the list above mostly focuses on two things:
- 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?
- What will happen if you go back to your home country?
If you have children who are also seeking T visas, it may be useful to also emphasize why they need ongoing support and care here that they cannot get in your home country.
1 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(i)