January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Although this issue does not impact all of us, it is important for citizens and non-citizens alike, to be aware of the existence of such serious issues. Many individuals come to the U.S. based on a web of lies, often being promised great paying jobs. These individuals are then trafficked into the U.S. as modern-day slaves, being forced to work in horrible conditions, for little pay. Often the traffickers will threaten these individuals into submission, so that they fear leaving their situation.
The U.S. government does not condone such trafficking, and trafficking is considered a serious federal offense. Further, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has implemented ways to protect victims of trafficking. For example, USCIS has implemented the use of T and U visas. T visas are specifically designed to provide victims and certain family members with a T visa, so that they may remain in the U.S. and help the government investigate and prosecute their trafficker. There are only five thousand T visas granted every year, and they have no application fee.
In addition to the T visa, U visas are also available to victims of trafficking, domestic violence, and a long list of other qualifying crimes. Certain other family members of the victims may also qualify to get a U visa. Unlike the T visa, there are ten thousand U visas available every year, and since 2010, USCIS has granted all ten thousand each year. This should be an indication of the how prevalent undocumented victims are.
Recipients of T and U visas receive work authorization cards for no longer than four years, absent exceptional circumstances. T and U visa recipients may also be eligible to obtain their lawful permanent resident status, but must meet a certain list of criteria, so speak with an experience attorney if you think you may qualify.
Under certain limited circumstances, if an individual cannot obtain a T or a U visa, the US Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) may grant a victim “Continued Presence,” which allows the victim to remain in the U.S. while they act as a witness in their trafficker’s case. Regardless, prevention of any future trafficking is crucial. If you are aware of any suspicious activity, please report it immediately. Visit www.ice.gov/tips for more information.