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Legal Information: Federal


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Laws current as of September 18, 2019

What is trafficking and how does it relate to T visas?

Trafficking is slavery in our midst. Human traffickers recruit or kidnap their victims and force them to provide sex (“sex trafficking”) or labor (“labor trafficking”) whether the victims want to or not.1 Traffickers often control victims so much that they can’t leave, sometimes through:

  • threats or violence against the victims’ family in the homeland;
  • threats or violence to the victims themselves;
  • taking the victims’ passport, identification, and money; or
  • physically locking the victims in the building where they are being held.

Traffickers often use victims’ social or economic status to lure them in and keep power over them.

A T visa allows trafficking victims to live and work legally in the United States for four years.2 After having T visa status for three years (or sooner if the trafficking investigation or prosecution is over) you may request “lawful permanent residence,” commonly called a “green card.”3 You must, however, apply before your T visa status runs out.4

1 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15)(T)(i)
2 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(c)(1)
3 INA § 245(l)(1)(A); 8 U.S.C. § 1255(l)(1)(A)
4 8 C.F.R. § 245.23(a)(2)(ii)

Will I be able to work legally with a T visa?

When U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services gives a person T visa status, they also automatically send the trafficking victim an Employment Authorization Document (often referred to as a “work permit”).1 Once a person has a work permit, s/he can work legally in the U.S.

1 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(d)(11)

Will I be deported if my T visa application is denied?

If your T visa application is denied, USCIS may put you into immigration proceedings known as “removal” or deportation proceedings. The government began doing this in the summer of 2019.1 Since immigration judges do not have the power to give people T visa status, there may be no way to avoid deportation (removal). In the removal proceedings, you would have to try to explain to an immigration judge why you should not be deported but this can be very hard to do. For instance, you may be able to ask for VAWA cancellation of removal from an immigration judge, either because you have been here for ten years or more or because you or your child have been abused by your spouse who is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident.2 There are other requirements for these applications, however, and they may be very hard to win.

To avoid having your T visa application denied and ending up in removal proceedings, it is more important than ever that you file a good, complete T visa case to start with, including all of the forms and documentation that help to prove all four requirements. This is hard to do without help from an attorney with experience in trafficking cases. Use our Finding a Lawyerpage to find a lawyer in your state. You can also ask one of the national immigration organizations listed on our National Organizations - Immigration page to help find you a lawyer.

1 USCIS Policy Memorandum 602.0050.1
2 INA § 240A(b)(1), (b)(2)

How does USCIS determine if I am a victim of a "severe form of human trafficking"?

When deciding whether someone is a trafficking victim (known under the law as a victim of a “severe form of human trafficking”), the government looks at whether the traffickers used or threatened to use force, coercion, or fraud to control the victim. Here are some examples of what this means: Traffickers may physically take people and force them to provide sex or labor they don’t want to do (“force,” which includes abduction); they may persuade someone to provide sex or labor they don’t want to do because they threaten them or people they care about (“coercion”); or they may promise freedom and legal work but in reality force them to provide sex or work against their will (“fraud,” which includes deception).

Many traffickers keep their victims working by threatening to hurt or punish them. The threat could be made to the victim directly or actions can be taken against another trafficking victim as a warning of what could happen. For example, a trafficker may rape a fellow worker to show that “this is what will happen to you if you don’t do what I want.” Traffickers may also make threats to harm the victim’s family members and loved ones, such as threatening to send someone to the victim’s homeland to rape, kill, or harm his/her family. Traffickers often threaten to call the police or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to get victims who challenge them deported. Threats to report the victim to the police are known as “abuse of the legal process.” Keeping people in a trafficking situation this way is “involuntary servitude or slavery.” 1

For more information, you can go to the website of the government agency that decides T visas, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

1 22 U.S.C. § 7102(7)

What about my family? Can they get T-visa status along with mine?

The government may also give T visa status to close relatives of trafficking victims (“derivatives”). A trafficking victim over 21 can ask for T visa status for his/her spouse and children. A trafficking victim under 21 can ask for T visa status for his/her spouse, children, unmarried siblings, and parents too.1 Note: “Children” includes some but not all step-children. 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 a “child” under immigration law.2

1 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(k)
2 INA § 101(b)(1)

What does it mean to have “continued presence”? Is it the same as having T visa status?

“Continued presence” is a way for law enforcement to ensure trafficking victims get the services they need as quickly as possible while allowing them to stay legally in the United States to help with a criminal investigation or prosecution.1 Continued presence is not the same as T visa status and it usually ends once the criminal case is over. Trafficking victims who wish to stay in the U.S. should work with an attorney to get T visa status while they have continued presence.

Only federal law enforcement can seek continued presence on your behalf. Therefore, you must either work with a federal officer or ask your local law enforcement or other agency to contact federal law enforcement for help getting continued presence.2 For information on contacting a federal law enforcement agency, see If I think I am a victim of severe human trafficking, how do I contact law enforcement for help?

1 22 U.S.C. § 7105(c)(3)(A)(i)
2 22 U.S.C. § 7105(c)(3)(C)