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Immigration Relief for Vulnerable Aliens: T and U Visas

Posted on Wednesday, August 31, 2011

crime trafficking victim visaImmigrants in the U.S. can be particularly vulnerable to crimes like human trafficking, domestic violence and child abuse. The U.S. Congress has created several forms of immigration relief that are available to aliens who are victims. These include the T nonimmigrant visa for victims of human trafficking and the U nonimmigrant visa for crime victims.

In establishing the T nonimmigrant visa, Congress wanted to aid law enforcement in investigating and prosecuting human trafficking by providing a way for alien victims to remain in the U.S. to assist in an investigation or prosecution. Human trafficking is a modern day form of slavery. Its victims include migrant workers, sexual trade captives, workers trapped in sweatshops, and domestic servants.

Trafficking involves the recruitment or conscription of a person for labor or services through the use of force, fraud, or coercion, for the purposes of subjection involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery. Trafficking is distinct from smuggling in that smuggling is voluntary and ends with arrival into the U.S., while trafficking is coercive or abusive and involves ongoing exploitations.

In order to be eligible for a T visa, a person must be a victim of severe trafficking, be physically present in the U.S. because of the trafficking, comply with reasonable requests for assistance in a trafficking investigation or prosecution, and subject to unusual and severe harm upon removal from the U.S. Victims under 18 or unable to participate in investigation and prosecution may be released from that requirement.

Applicants for one of the 5,000 annual T visas may file petitions for themselves without the need for a sponsor or labor certification. They can apply for visas for family members as well as themselves. Their status - including employment authorization - is initially granted for 4 years, but extensions are available and the visa holder may adjust status to that of lawful permanent resident. Application fees may be waived by USCIS, and the holder of a T visa may also be eligible for federal refugee benefits.

Congress' intent in establishing the U visa was to aid law enforcement in investigating and prosecution crime by providing a way for alien victims to remain in the U.S. to assist in a crime investigation or prosecution. U nonimmigrant status provides protection to victims of certain types of crime, including sexual assault, incest, being held hostage, blackmail, extortion, felony assault, manslaughter, murder, obstruction of justice, and several others. The immigration benefit may be available not only to victims of these criminal acts but to those who are victims of attempts, conspiracy or solicitation to commit these crimes.

To qualify for a U visa, a victim must be a victim of qualifying criminal activity and have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of the crime. The benefits of the U visa are the same as those for the T visa, except that there is no opportunity for federal refugee benefits. 10,000 U visas are available each calendar year.

Congress has enacted special confidentiality provisions that apply to individuals with pending or approved T or U self-petitions. One provision limits the use of information provided by an abuser, perpetrator or certain family members. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Department of Justice (DOJ) or Department of State (DOS) is prohibited from making an adverse determining of admissibility or removal of an alien using information furnished solely by these individuals. There is also a prohibition against disclosure, which protects any disclosure of information by DHS, DOJ or DOS relating to an alien who is approved for T or U status.

Notices to Appear and other enforcement actions in certain locations cannot be initiated against an alien known by an arresting officer to have a pending or approved T or U visa. These locations include domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centers, supervised visitation centers, family justice centers, victims' service providers or community-based organizations. A courthouse may be a protected location if the alien is appearing in connection with a protection order case, child custody case, or a case relating to domestic violence, sexual assault, trafficking or stalking where the alien has been battered or subjected to extreme cruelty. Initiation of an enforcement action requires a certification of compliance with the law, and an officer who willfully violates these rules may be disciplined and fined. If you or someone you know has questions about immigration relief under T or U status, an attorney at Immigration Law Associates may be able to help. You may click here to contact us by email, or call us during business hours at 847-763-8500.

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