In 2002, Congress passed the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act. This Act created two new temporary (or “non-immigrant”) visa categories – the T and U visas. This article will briefly discuss these two forms of relief, who is and who is not eligible for them, and the process one goes through to get them.
The T Visa
To be eligible for T visa classification, the applicant must satisfy several basic requirements. First, the applicant must be a victim of a “severe form of trafficking in persons.” Examples of qualifying trafficking crimes include commercial sex trafficking, involuntary servitude and/or peonage, debt bondage, and slavery. Second, the applicant must be physically present in the United States, American Samoa, or the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Third, if over the age of fifteen, the applicant must have complied with any reasonable request by law enforcement agencies to assist in the investigation or prosecution of the acts of trafficking of which they were a victim. And lastly, the applicant must show that they would suffer “unusual and severe harm” if forced to leave the United States.
Applicants for T visa classification are subject to all grounds of inadmissibility in the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”), such as the health, economic, or state security grounds. Some, but not all, of those grounds of inadmissibility may be overcome by a “waiver,” and this is itself a separate application made to the government. It should be noted, however, that waivers are difficult to obtain.
A T visa can be issued for a period of up to three years. An applicant granted T visa status can also apply for derivative status for certain family members, but the T visa grantee must show that not granting derivative status to those family members would result in extreme hardship. Under the current regulations “family members” for purposes of derivative T status include the spouse and children of the grantee. In addition, if the grantee is under the age of 21, s/he may apply for derivative status for his/her parents.
The U Visa
In order to be eligible for U visa classification, the non-citizen must satisfy several basic requirements. First, they must have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as the result of “qualifying criminal activity.” The regulations list acts prohibited by Federal, state, and local law that would fit this definition, and it should be noted that this list is not exhaustive. The second requirement is that the applicant must possess information about the criminal activity, and must have been, be, or will likely be of assistance to law enforcement agencies.
In addition to filling out Form I-918 and attaching all supporting evidence, applicants should note that they will need to have a certification from a law enforcement agency demonstrating the non-citizen’s assistance to the investigation and/or prosecution of the criminal activity.
Under the regulations, Immigration can only grant 10,000 principal U visas in each fiscal year (which begins October 1). Like their T visa counterparts, U visa applicants can apply for derivative status for certain qualifying family members. The U visa can be granted for a period of up to four years, and extensions may be granted if the applicant can get certification from the law enforcement agency that their assistance is still needed. Under the regulations, Immigration is required to grant work authorization to U visa grantees.
As with the T visa, applicants for U visas are subject to all grounds of inadmissibility, and are eligible for waivers for some, but not all, of those grounds. Under certain limited circumstances, a non-citizen granted U visa status may apply to adjust their status to that of permanent resident.
The T and U visas afford non-citizens who have been victims of certain crimes not only the opportunity to assist law enforcement in the investigation and prosecution of harmful criminals, but also the chance to gain status in the United States. Individuals who feel that they may be eligible for either of these forms of relief should consult with an attorney, so that the strongest application possible can be presented.