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May 6, 2013

What is a T-visa and what does it do?

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)

What is human trafficking?

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:

  • Bonded labor (also known as debt bondage): 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 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.**  The value of his/her work generally ends up being greater than the original amount of money "borrowed."***
  • Involuntary servitude/slavery: This is when victims are forced to work against their will, under the threat of violence or some other form of punishment.  Traffickers could threaten to physically harm to 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.”**  Forms of forced labor can include domestic servitude (i.e., being a housekeeper); agricultural labor; sweatshop factory labor; janitorial, food service and other service industry labor; and begging.***

* This information was adapted from the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking
** 22 USC § 7102(8)
*** National Human Trafficking Resource Center Fact Sheet