January 13, 2021

T Visas: Securing Lawful Immigration Status in the U.S. for Human Trafficking Survivors

Jacquelyn B. Bradford

Human Trafficking Justice Project Supervising Attorney, Gulfcoast Legal Services, Inc.

Jacquelyn B. Bradford (jacquelynb@gulfcoastlegal.org) is the Human Trafficking Justice Project Supervising Attorney with the non-profit Gulfcoast Legal Services, Inc. She primarily assists survivors with applications for immigration relief before the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

PDF with Citations

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.