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Legal Information: Federal

Immigration

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Laws current as of May 17, 2021

If I have been the victim of trafficking, should I apply for VAWA or for a T visa?

If you were forced you to perform sex work or labor in the U.S., you could qualify for both a T visa, which helps victims of human trafficking, and a VAWA self-petition if you were married to your trafficker or your trafficker was your parent who is a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident, or if your trafficker was your adult U.S. citizen son or daughter. You don’t have to be part of a major sex or labor trafficking ring to be a human trafficking victim.

Here are some reasons why you may want to apply for a VAWA self-petition instead of a T visa:

  • USCIS takes about two years to decide a VAWA self-petition, but it can take anywhere from two to four years to decide a T visa.
  • Unless you get “continued presence,” you cannot get a work permit through the T visa until your application is approved. If you file an application for lawful permanent residence with your VAWA self-petition, you can get a work permit while the self-petition is pending.
  • T visas require that you go along with any reasonable requests for assistance from law enforcement in investigating or prosecuting the crime unless you were under 18 when you were trafficked or are too traumatized to help law enforcement. VAWA does not require that.
  • To qualify for a T visa, you must be a victim of trafficking. For VAWA, you must prove “battery or extreme cruelty,” which is a much broader term that includes many more types of abuse.
  • Unless you can get a letter from the Department of Justice to show that the investigation into your trafficking is closed or you were under 18 when you were trafficked, you must wait three years after your T visa is approved to file for lawful permanent residence. VAWA self-petitioners can be eligible for lawful permanent residence immediately when their self-petition is approved.

And here are some reasons why you may want to apply for a T visa instead of a VAWA self-petition:

  • If you were abused by your U.S. citizen child, you cannot include any derivatives in your VAWA self-petition. If you were abused by your spouse or parent, you can only include your unmarried children under 21 in your VAWA self-petition. The T visa could allow you to include more family members as derivatives.
  • Trafficking victims with approved T visas are eligible for the same public benefits as refugees. These benefits are typically more generous than what VAWA self-petitioners can receive. In addition, the federal government has a special assistance program for trafficking victims called the Trafficking Victims Assistance Program (TVAP), which can provide financial and case management support even before you file a T visa application.
  • Depending on which grounds of inadmissibility apply in your case, it may be easier to get a waiver with a T visa than with a VAWA self-petition. Almost all grounds of inadmissibility can be waived with a T visa, but the VAWA waivers of inadmissibility are less generous.

Before you file any papers with USCIS, you should discuss your options with an immigration lawyer with experience in VAWA and T visas to determine what would be the best option in your case. To find help, please go the National Organizations - Immigration page or our Finding a Lawyer page. If your lawyer needs assistance, s/he can call ASISTA for help.