In 2000, Congress passed a law known as the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (VTVPA), which created two categories of non-immigrant visas, U visa for victims of certain crimes and T visas for victims of trafficking. These nonimmigrant classes of admission provide temporary status to individuals in the United States who are or have been victims of a severe form of trafficking or who have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as victims of criminal activity. This law was intended to combat trafficking in persons, especially into the sex trade, slavery, and involuntary servitude, and to reauthorize certain federal programs to prevent violence against immigrant women and children. It provides the similar immigrant benefits as those available to refugees, with an added path to permanent resident status.
U visas for Victims of Crime
U visas are available to individuals who are victims of certain types of criminal activity, or who possess information concerning such activity. All applicants are fingerprinted for criminal background checks and are not required to undergo an interview with a USCIS (formerly INS) examiner. Applicants are eligible for work permits upon approval. Individuals granted U visa status may adjust to legal permanent resident status three years after they are granted U visa status. Derivative visas are available to spouses, children, parents, or in some cases, siblings of the principal applicant. There is an annual limit of 10,000 U visas, applicable only to principals and not to derivatives. If no visa number is available at the time the application is approved, the applicant is put on a waiting list and given temporary immigration status and work authorization until a number becomes available.
Eligibility Requirements for the U visa:
- An individual must be a victim, indirect victim or qualifying bystander who suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as the result of a qualifying crime of:
rape; torture; trafficking; incest; domestic violence; sexual assault; abusive sexual contact; prostitution; sexual exploitation; female genital mutilation; being held hostage; peonage; involuntary servitude; slave trade; kidnapping; abduction; unlawful criminal restraint; false imprisonment; blackmail; extortion; manslaughter; murder; felonious assault; witness tampering; obstruction of justice; perjury; or attempt, conspiracy, or solicitation to commit any of the above mentioned crimes; or similar activity.
- The victim, indirect victim or qualifying bystander possesses/possessed information concerning the criminal activity.
- Law enforcement must certify that the victim was, is, or is likely to be helpful in the investigation OR prosecution of the criminal activity.
- The criminal activity must have violated a United States law or occurred in the United States (including Indian country and military installations) or the territories and possessions of the United States.
- The victim must be admissible to the United States, or qualify for a waiver of inadmissibility factors.
T visas for Victims of Trafficking
T visas are available to individuals who are victims of “a severe form of trafficking in persons.” All applicants are fingerprinted for criminal background checks and may be required to undergo an interview with a USCIS (formerly INS) examiner. Applicants are eligible for work permits upon approval. Individuals granted T visas may adjust to legal permanent resident status three years after they are granted the T visa. Derivative visas are available to spouses, children, or parents of the principal immigrant. There is an annual limit of 5,000 T-1 visas, applicable only to principals and not to derivatives. If no visa number is available at the time the application is approved, the applicant is put on a waiting list and given temporary immigration status until a number becomes available.
Eligibility Requirements for the T Visa:
- An individual must be the victim who has suffered from a “severe form of trafficking of persons,” which includes:
trafficking to engage in a commercial sex act in which the act is induced by force, fraud or coercion or which is performed by a trafficked person who is younger than 18 years of age; or, recruiting a person through force, fraud or coercion “for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.”
- The individual must be present in the United States on account of being a victim of trafficking.
- The individual would suffer extreme hardship involving unusual and severe harm if they were removed from the United States.
- The individual has complied with any reasonable request for assistance in a trafficking investigation or prosecution or is less than 18 years old. Immigrants who are 18 and older should also submit a law enforcement agency endorsement if possible. Child victims under 18 years of age do not have to show they assisted law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of their traffickers.
For more information: USCIS Immigration Options for Victims Brochure
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