The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 created the T Visa along with a variety of measures designed for prevention, protection, and prosecution. The T Visa is a non-immigrant status for foreign-born survivors of human trafficking. Generally, to be eligible for the T Visa the labor or sex trafficking victimization must have occurred within the United States. The T Visa is both a law enforcement tool to encourage victims to participate in investigations and prosecutions and a humanitarian tool to allow survivors of human trafficking to regain safety and stability.
Survivors may apply for T Visas for themselves and certain family members to remain and/or be reunified with their family in the U.S. T Visa holders are eligible for many public benefits and have a path to apply for lawful permanent residency (“green card”). The T Visa application is complex and standards of adjudication are often in flux so it is important for survivors to apply with the assistance of an immigration attorney trained in T Visas. In recent years, many policy changes within U.S.C.I.S. and other federal agencies have created hurdles for survivors to be granted T Visas and to thrive during the increasingly long application processing times. Aside from these hurdles, survivors face many other challenges to accessing T Visas. For example, most survivors do not know they qualify as a victim of human trafficking and when a survivor is identified there are often barriers to accessing services such as a lack of legal providers. There are 5,000 T Visas available for principal victims each year. However, less than 2,000 principal T Visa applications are submitted annually. Based upon my experience, I do not believe this reflects a lack of eligible victims, rather the difficulties in identifying victims and in accessing services.
During law school, I hoped to have a career helping protect the rights of vulnerable populations. I also love interacting with individuals from different countries and cultures. So when the opportunity to represent foreign-born survivors of human trafficking became available at my civil legal aid, I happily applied for it. I’ve represented children as young as 6 and adults over 60 from North America, South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. I am regularly in awe of my clients’ resiliency and seeing them achieve their goals is a joyful experience.
For attorneys interested in gaining expertise in T Visas or serving survivors of human trafficking, there are many non-profits that provide excellent training materials such as the Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking, Freedom Network USA, ASISTA, and the Immigrant Legal Resource Center to name a few.