Know the Laws:
UPDATED May 6, 2013
The following information should not be considered as a legal opinion on specific facts or as a substitute for legal counsel. Circumstances around human trafficking and applying for a T-visa are usually complicated and need a case-by-case analysis. Please consult an attorney who understands the unique issues surrounding human trafficking BEFORE submitting anything to USCIS. For more information about services for trafficked victims prior to obtaining T-visa status, you can contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center's Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or you can send a text to 233733, which corresponds with the letters BeFree on your phone.
Human trafficking is the process by which one person (the “trafficker”) recruits another person (“the victim”) for the purposes of exploiting that person. The victim is generally controlled and held captive by the trafficker against his/her will. Traffickers use or threaten to use force, coercion, abduction, fraud, or deception to bring their victims under their control. Traffickers also take advantage of the vulnerable social or economic status of their victims to keep power over them.
Trafficking is basically a modern-day form of slavery. Generally, human trafficking victims are subjected to sexual exploitation, known as sex trafficking, or forced labor known as labor trafficking.* Sexual exploitation could include acts such as forced pornography, mail-order bride selling, or prostitution. Forced labor generally comes in two forms:
A T-visa gives temporary nonimmigrant status to victims of "severe forms of human trafficking" on the condition that they help law enforcement officials investigate and prosecute crimes related to human trafficking.* However, if the victim is under 18 years of age, the law does not require cooperation with police to obtain a T-visa.*1
T-visas allow victims of severe forms of trafficking to stay in the United States for four years from the date the T-visa application is approved. However, sometimes it can be longer than four years if a law enforcement authority certifies (officially states) that having the victim remain in the country for longer is necessary for investigating or prosecuting the crime.*2
If a T-visa is granted, an employment authorization document (EAD) is also granted automatically, which means that the victim can legally work during his/her stay in the United States. There is no need to apply for separate employment authorization.*3 T-visa status may also be available for immediate family members of a T-visa applicant. Immediate family members include spouses, children, and parents of applicants under 18.*4
Note: T-visa status is also called “T-1 nonimmigrant status."
* 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15)(T)(i)
*1 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15)(T)(i)(III)(cc)
*2 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(p)(1)
*3 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(l)(4)
*4 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(o)
You may be eligible for a T-visa if you:
To obtain a T-visa, you must prove on your application that you meet all of the following four requirements:
- Are a victim of severe human trafficking;
- Would face extreme hardship if forced to leave the United States; AND
- Are willing to assist law enforcement prosecute the people responsible.*
(1) You are or have been the victim of a severe form of human trafficking;
(2) You are in the United States, American Samoa, or at a port-of-entry to the United States or American Samoa
because of human trafficking;
(3) You would suffer extreme hardship if removed or forced to leave; and
(4) You satisfy one of the following three conditions:
Note: These above requirements are defined and explained in more detail in the next section, Explanation of eligibility requirements.
- You have cooperated and are willing to cooperate with reasonable requests for assistance by federal, state, or local law enforcement in investigating or prosecuting crimes related to human trafficking; or
- You are excused by the attorney general from failing to cooperate with reasonable requests for assistance by federal, state, or local law enforcement in investigating or prosecuting crimes related to human trafficking because of physical or psychological trauma; or
- You are under 18 years of age.*
Not necessarily. There is a limit on the number of T-visas available nationally (5,000), which means that even if you satisfy all of the requirements, you could still be denied a T-visa. If you are otherwise qualified to receive a T-visa, but are denied one because of the limit, then you will be placed on a waiting list.* For more information on how to apply for a T-visa, see How do I apply for a T-visa?
* 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(m)
In the above question called Am I eligible for a T-visa?, we list the requirements that you have to meet to be eligible to apply for a T-visa. In this section, we explain the first requirement in detail.
Requirement 1: You are or have been the victim of a severe form of trafficking. What does “a severe form of human trafficking” mean?
Human trafficking has been described by the US Citizen and Immigration Services as a “form of modern-day slavery in which traffickers lure individuals with false promises of employment and a better life.”*
According to the law, a "severe form of human trafficking" has to fall into one of the following three categories:
For more information on how “severe trafficking in persons” is defined by the government, visit the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division.
- Sex trafficking - This is when the victim (trafficked person) is forced, tricked, or coerced into selling sex acts for money or anything of value -- in other words, forced or coerced prostitution. (Note: If the victim is under 18 years of age, the law automatically assumes that the victim was forced, tricked, or coerced.)
- Trafficking that leads to debt bondage / peonage – This is when the victim (trafficked person) is forced to work indefinitely (without any reasonable limits on services or time) to pay off the person who smuggled him/her into the United States. Generally, the victim has no way to know when his/her debt is going to be paid off or how much his/her debt has been reduced by the work s/he has already performed.
- Trafficking that leads to involuntary servitude / slavery / forced labor – This is when the trafficker uses threats or physical force to make the victim (trafficked person) work. Traffickers could threaten to physically harm the victim or the victim’s family and loved ones, but may also threaten to report the victim to the police (for his/her immigration status, prostitution, etc.) if s/he does not continue to work for the trafficker. The threats to report the victim to the police are known as “abuse of the legal process.”**
In the above question called Am I eligible for a T-visa?, we list the requirements that you have to meet to be eligible to apply for a T-visa. In this section, we explain the second requirement in detail.
Requirement 2: You are in the United States, American Samoa, or a port-of-entry to the United States or American Samoa because of human trafficking (known as being "present because of human trafficking").
To be eligible for a T-visa, you must be in the United States (or American Samoa or a port-of-entry into the United States) as a result of a severe form of trafficking. In other words, if you came to the U.S. because of force, coercion, or fraud and you are now being forced to work (in a prison-like workshop or as an agricultural laborer, for example) or perform sex acts for money (i.e., prostitution), you may satisfy this requirement. However, if you came to the U.S. on your own and then sometime later you were forced / tricked into labor or prostitution, you may not meet this eligibility requirement. Please talk to an immigration lawyer about your specific situation to be sure. You can find free and paid lawyers on our Finding a Lawyer page.
Note: You may still be considered “present because of human trafficking” even though you are no longer working under force, coercion, or trickery if you recently escaped or were released from a severe form of trafficking. If you escaped from severe trafficking a long time ago, you may meet this requirement only if you remained in the United States because of the initial severe form of trafficking (if, for example, you were frightened to leave the U.S. due to threats from the traffickers). However, if it was a very long time ago that you escaped from the person forcing you to work or engage in prostitution, and you have had the opportunity to leave the United States since then, you will NOT be considered present because of human trafficking.* An immigration lawyer can likely help you figure out if you meet this requirement if you are unsure whether or not your escape / release would be considered "recent." See our Finding a Lawyer page for free and paid legal services.
* 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(g)
In the above question called Am I eligible for a T-visa?, we list the requirements that you have to meet to be eligible to apply for a T-visa. In this section, we explain the third requirement in detail.
Requirement 3: You would suffer extreme hardship if removed or forced to leave. What is considered to be “extreme hardship?”
T-visas are only available to trafficked persons who would face “extreme hardship” (unusual and extreme harm) if forced to return to their native countries. To show extreme hardship, you must show more than economic harm (i.e., not having enough money to survive) or social harm (i.e., being considered not suitable for marriage or employment). Just proving one of these will not be enough. Generally, you will need to show a “likelihood” of serious physical or psychological harm. Note: “Likelihood” means more than a possibility; it means that serious physical or psychological harm is probable.*
Factors considered in determining whether you will suffer extreme hardship if forced to leave the United States include:
* 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(i)
- Your age and your particular situation;
- Medical needs (for serious physical or psychological illness);
- Whether the government in your native country will prosecute the crimes committed against you;
- Whether the government in your native country provides protection from human trafficking and the likelihood that you will be victimized again;
- Whether you would be severely punished when you return to your country (by the government, traffickers, or because of social practices) for having been trafficked; and
- Whether your country is dangerous because of war or civil violence.*
In the above question called Am I eligible for a T-visa?, we list the requirements that you have to meet to be eligible to apply for a T-visa. In this section, we explain the fourth requirement in detail.
Requirement 4: You have cooperated with or are excused from cooperating with reasonable requests from legal authorities. What does "cooperating with legal authorities" mean?
If you are over 18 years old, you must cooperate with law enforcement authorities’ “reasonable requests” for assistance in prosecuting the trafficking crime. Whether a request is “reasonable” depends on the particular situation; things that will be considered include:
If you are under 18, you do NOT have to cooperate with authorities (although you can if you want to).
- General law enforcement practices (what law enforcement usually does when catching and prosecuting criminals);
- Your experiences (what you were subjected to by the trafficker); and
- Your circumstances regarding fear, physical and mental trauma, and your age and maturity.*
Yes. T-visa status is available for certain qualifying family members of a T-visa applicant – it’s called derivative T-visa status. The following family members could qualify:
If you are under 21 years old, you can apply for T-visa status for your:
Here is a list of the possible forms that may need to be filed and the costs (if any) of each:
It is very important that you work with an attorney (or initially with an advocate) familiar with T visas. The forms and laws are confusing and you may make a mistake or leave something out that results in USCIS denying your application. Because applicants who are unlawfully present in the United States are subject to removal (deportation) if their applications are denied, we strongly encourage you to contact an immigration attorney before filing an application. To find an immigration attorney, see our International/Immigration listings under National Organizations and / or our Finding a Lawyer page for a lawyer near you.
Yes, if you are granted a T-visa, you are automatically granted an employment authorization document (EAD). You do not need to fill out separate paperwork to get employment authorization - your T-visa application also acts as an application for employment authorization.
Note: If you are applying for derivative T-visa status (T-visa status for your immediate family members), you must apply for employment authorization for them separately by filling out Form I-765.
* 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(o)(10)
A T-visa lasts for four years. You are required to leave the United States at the end of the four years unless either:
As someone who has been granted T-visa status (also known as a T-1 nonimmigrant), you may apply for permanent residence if you:
Yes. If you are an adult victim of human trafficking (18 years of age and over), you can get “certified” by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in order to be eligible for certain federally-funded benefits.
“Certification” is available to victims of human trafficking (as defined by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act) who are willing to assist law enforcement in the prosecution of trafficking crimes AND either:
(1) Have completed a bona fide application for a T-visa; OR
(2) Have received continued presence* status from the Department of Homeland Security.
Child victims are automatically eligible for benefits once the HHS receives proof that the child is a victim of human trafficking (so they do not have to prove either of the two requirements above). The HHS will then provide the child victim or the child victim’s representative with a “letter of eligibility,” which can be used to prove to social service providers that the child is eligible for benefits.**
If you have not yet been certified by the HHS (but you have reported the trafficking crime), you may still be eligible for certain federally- funded services and benefits including crisis counseling and short term shelter or housing assistance. To locate service providers for uncertified victims of human trafficking, contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center's Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or you can send a text to 233733, which corresponds with the letters BeFree on your phone.
Note: In addition to government- funded programs, a variety of non-governmental organizations also provide information and assistance to victims of human trafficking, whether you are certified or not. Visit Humantrafficking.org to view a list of non-governmental organizations by state.
* “Continued Presence” status is requested by law enforcement officials for victims of human trafficking who are potential witnesses for trafficking-related prosecution. Only a law enforcement agency can petition the USCIS for continued presence status.
** Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Victim Assistance Fact Sheet
Once you have obtained certification (or a letter of eligibility if you are under 18), you may receive benefits from any federal program or federally-funded state program. We have listed possible benefits you may be eligible for below. To apply for any of these benefits, be sure to bring your certification or letter of eligibility with you. (The service provider will verify your certification or eligibility letter by calling the Trafficking Victim Verification line at (866) 401-5510). You can find additional information in HHS's Resource Guide.
1. Financial Help
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) – TANF provides assistance and work opportunities to needy families with children under 18 years of age. The program is implemented by state agencies. Certified victims of human trafficking (and victims under 18 years old who have obtained letters of eligibility) should apply through their local social services agency.
Food Stamp Program – Food stamps can be used like cash to pay for food at most grocery stores. Certified victims of human trafficking (and victims under 18 years old who have obtained letters of eligibility) can apply through their local Social Security offices. To find your closest Social Security office, click here.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) – SSI provides benefits for people who are blind, have severe disabilities, or are at least 65 years old and have limited income and resources. Certified victims of human trafficking can apply through their local Social Security offices. To find your closest Social Security office, click here.
Refugee Cash and Medical Assistance (RCA & RMA) – If you are ineligible for TANF, SSI, and Medicaid, you may be eligible for RCA and RMA, which provide cash and medical assistance for the first 8 months following certification or eligibility.
Matching Grant Program – The Matching Grant Program is administered by Volunteer Agencies (called VOLAGs) as an alternative to refugee cash assistance. It provides employment services, living assistance (including food or food subsidies, housing assistance, and transportation), and cash allowance.
2. Health Care
Torture Treatment Program – HHS-funded social, legal, health, and psychological services for victims of torture. To find survivor resources, click here.
State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) – SCHIP (also called CHIP) is a public health insurance program available to low-income, uninsured children under 18 years of age who do not qualify for Medicaid. Because the program is administered by state agencies, you will need to contact your state’s local social services agency for more information.
Medicaid – Medicaid is a government-funded health insurance program for people with low income and limited resources. Because the program is administered by state agencies, you will need to contact your state’s local social services agency for more information.
3. Social Services
Unaccompanied Refugee Minors Program – This program provides resettlement and foster care services for unaccompanied minor refugees and trafficking victims. For more information, click here.
One-Stop Career Center System - If you are looking for employment, Career One-Stop may be able to assist you. Local centers provide information and assistance for finding employment and obtaining education and training. To locate a One-Stop career service center near you, click here.
Job Corps – The Department of Labor oversees this free job-training and education program for youths between the ages of 16 and 24. To learn more about Job Corps, go here.
Certified victims of human trafficking may be eligible for public housing assistance. Your local social services agency may be able to assist you in locating the proper public housing authority.
State-Specific Programs – States may have additional programs for certified victims of human trafficking. Your local social services agency may be able to assist you in figuring out what may be available to you.
Note: The above information is adapted from the HHS’s Administration for Children and Families Victim Assistance Fact Sheet. The fact sheet is also available in the following languages:
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services website provides information, instructions, and forms for T-visa applicants. Click here to view the USCIS T-visa page.
For services and help, please consider contacting the following resources: