Human trafficking is prominent in all countries. This practice of deceiving and using children or adults for various purposes against their will and smuggling them into other countries is illegal. To assist victims of criminal activities and human trafficking, in 2000, the U.S Congress passed the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act and the Battered Immigrant Women’s Protection Act.
Based on these legal acts, the U.S then created two types of visas for non-US citizens who are subject to such crimes in the U.S:
- U visa – Victims of criminal activity who have suffered mental and physical abuse
- T visa – Victims of human trafficking
This article will focus on the T visa and will provide details about how to apply and obtain it.
What is the T visa?
The T visa was created to help victims of human trafficking. This includes both children (minors) and adults. Since there are many people who are smuggled into the U.S illegally and against their will on false claims for employment and other benefits, the U.S allows them to apply for this type of visa to help relieve their hardship.
Human trafficking in the case of the T visa is defined in detail and has three elements such as:
- Process of trafficking – which must include either recruitment, transferring, transportation, harboring, or receiving someone against their will
- Means of trafficking – which must include either coercion, threat, fraud, abduction, deception, deceit, or abuse of power
- Goal of trafficking – which must include either pornography, prostitution, violence, forced labor, sexual exploitation, debt bondage, involuntary servitude, or slavery
To qualify as victims of such trafficking, those who are adults must prove at least one element from the three, while children must show only Process or Goal of trafficking elements. In addition to these three elements, the victim must have been trafficked into the U.S and be in the country. It is not required that the victim have knowledge that they were being trafficked to qualify for the visa, but it is necessary for them to cooperate with law enforcement agencies in the investigation.
Once the T visa is given to the victim of human trafficking, they are automatically given benefits that are similar to those that refugees get. The U.S Department of Health and Human Services and Office of Refugee Resettlement must certify that the person was a victim to qualify for those benefits.
In addition, the T visa holder automatically gets an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) without needing to apply for one. The EAD grants them the right to work in any legal activity, part or full time, and at whatever period they choose to.
The T visa is specifically designed for these victims of trafficking and is subject to a cap from the U.S government. In any fiscal year, a maximum of 5,000 T visas can be issued by the U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). If there are more valid applications that surpass this cap, USCIS has the right to put these applications on hold, grant them EADs so they can work, and then give them T visas once they are available.
What are the types of T visas?
When the T visa was created, several scenarios of who the victim of human trafficking could be were devised. Based on this, one principal type of T visa was created and several derivative visas. The derivative visas are for dependents and family members, while the principal visa is for the victim.
- T-1 visa is for the victim of the trafficking so the principal visa holder
- T-2 visa is for the spouse of the T-1 visa holder. The U.S only recognized marriages that can be proven through a valid marriage certificate and does not accept multiple spouses.
- T-3 visa is for the children of the T-1 visa holder, which can be proven with a valid birth certificate.
- T-4 visa is for the parents of the T-1 visa holder. The T-1 visa holder must be under 21 years old for the parents to qualify for a T-4 visa.
- T-5 visa is for the unmarried siblings of the T-1 visa holder. The siblings must be under 18 years old, while the T-1 visa holder must be under 21 years old.
The rest of the article will focus on information regarding the T-1 visa, and the last section will give more details about the dependents and family members.
What are the requirements of the T visa?
To be eligible for the T visa, you must fulfill several requirements, as follows:
- You must be a victim of human trafficking as defined above and in legal documents.
- You must have been trafficked into the U.S and currently be within the U.S, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, or at a U.S port of entry
- You must be willing to cooperate with law enforcement agencies to help in their investigation. You are released from this requirement of cooperation if:
- You are a child under the age of 18
- You have suffered substantial physical or mental trauma
- You must show that sending you back from the U.S would make you suffer extreme hardship or severe harm. This can be done by:
- Proving that you will not be able to get medical assistance in your home country as in the U.S
- Proving that your government will not offer good protection
- Proving that you would be stigmatized in your home country as a victim of human trafficking, etc.
- You must be admissible in the U.S and not have broken any immigration rules. If you are inadmissible, then you can file Form I-192, Application for Advance Permission to Enter as a Nonimmigrant.
How to apply for a T visa?
The T visa application procedure is fairly simple. Contrary to the U visa application procedure, where the applicant can either be in the U.S or outside, the T visa is different. The applicant must be inside the U.S to be eligible for application. This means that they do not need to go through a U.S Embassy, but apply directly to the Vermont Service Center or USCIS.
To apply for the T visa, the applicant must submit the following:
- A completed Form I-914, Application for T Nonimmigrant Status
- Completed Form I-914, Supplement B, Declaration of Law Enforcement Officer for Victim of Trafficking in Persons. This is a certification that you are a victim of human trafficking as proven by law enforcement agencies.
- 3 passport sized photographs meeting the Photo Requirements
- Other evidence to show proof that you meet the eligibility criteria
When you submit your application package, you will not be charged any application fees. So the T-visa is free, but there are fees for filing the forms. To avoid paying these fees, you can file the form to waive them, Form I-912, Request for Fee Waiver.
What is the T visa processing time?
The processing time for the T visa varies. USCIS does not give an estimate or a time that applicants will have to wait for their visa to be processed after applying. This means that the processing time varies from person to person and is done based on the evidence that they give.
How long is the T visa valid?
The T visa, similarly to the U visa is valid for a maximum of 4 years. During these 4 years, the primary T visa holder can open a bank account, get a driver’s license, enroll in academic or vocational study, and find employment.
After this period expires, the person must return to their home country or face legal issues. However, under exceptional circumstances, the person can apply for an extension or change of status with USCIS.
This is done by filing Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status, and evidence as to why the person should continue remaining in the U.S after their T visa expired. USCIS takes into consideration requests for extensions on a case by case basis.
Can I get a Green Card on a T visa?
As a primary T visa holder, you also have the option of filing for permanent residence and not just extension of status. If you are approved, then you get a Green Card and can remain in the U.S with all the rights that permanent residents have.
To be eligible for the Green Card, you must meet these requirements:
- You must have been in the U.S for at least 3 years on a T visa
- You must have assisted with the investigation for the human trafficking crime you were a victim of
- You must pass a good character assessment
- You must prove that you would suffer extreme hardship if you were returned to your home country
- You must be admissible in the U.S
If you meet the eligibility criteria, then you can file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. Based on this, your application will be processed and a response will be given to you. During the time you await response for your status, you can continue working.
Can my family and dependents accompany me with a T visa?
As mentioned, there are different types of T visas, and most of them are for family members and dependents. Your spouse, children, parents, and siblings may accompany you to the U.S with a T visa.
However, they can be outside the U.S to apply for this visa or inside. To apply, you must file Form I-914, Supplement A, Application for Immediate Family Member of T-1 Recipient. The form can be filed at the same time as your application or after you as the primary T-1 visa holder get your visa.
Family members have the same rights as you, but they need to file for an EAD to be allowed to work. Additionally, if you apply for an extension of your status, they too are allowed to file for one. Also, if you file for a Green Card, then they too can apply for it.