Human trafficking or trafficking in individuals is a type of slavery in the modern-day. The act in itself is a criminal offense where the traffickers, if convicted, are severely punished. The perpetrators of this offense lure people by making employment promises and those of an improved life. Unfortunately, this is attractive to many people without knowing they will be entering the United States illegally to be used for sex or forced labor.
Fortunately, if you are a victim of human trafficking, you can find relief from the U.S government that can provide you with a T nonimmigrant visa. However, you will require an experienced attorney in immigration law to assist you in obtaining this visa. At California Immigration Attorney, we offer assistance to victims that find themselves in California through human trafficking to obtain this visa.
Understanding Human Trafficking
No data exists that sufficiently explains the extent of this crime in America. However, current research states that most law enforcement agencies have encountered human trafficking in one form or another or have come into contact with victims in the carrying out of their duties.
The nature of the offense is complex, with most perpetrators living in hiding or carrying on their business without being noticed. Worse, most victims of this crime fear identifying the traffickers to protect themselves against the consequences. This makes discovering the crime difficult besides the resources required to investigate and uncover the violation. A lot of victims of human trafficking are also misunderstood and assumed to be criminals or undocumented immigrants.
Victims are brought to work in homes and are kept hidden, or others freely interact with people but are exploited for commercial sex. In other cases, the victims are forced to work in extremely inhuman circumstances such as factories or plain sight as exotic dancers.
The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000, among other statutes under the federal law, defines human trafficking as:
- Sex trafficking where a commercial sex act is triggered by the use of force, coercion, or fraud or in cases where the victim forced to perform these acts is below 18, or
- The hiring, transporting, harboring, providing, or having a person to work for you or offer you services through force or coercion or fraud. The individual in doing this is subjected to peonage, debt, involuntary servitude, slavery, or bondage.
This crime is also often associated with violence to the victims, such as organized criminal activities, property crimes, and other federal and state law violations, even international laws.
As earlier stated, if you are a victim of human trafficking in California, you can find relief with an immigration attorney's help to obtain a T visa. A common question is who a victim of human trafficking is? The answer to this question is complex. No profile defines a victim of human trafficking. A victim can be of any gender, age, or from any country.
Any person below 18 that engages in commercial sex, whether or not force, coercion, or fraud, was used and is in America illegally is a victim of human trafficking. The law clarifies that a person below 18 cannot consent legally to the act even when they seem to agree to commercial sex. This, in itself, makes the person a victim of human trafficking when they are in America illegally.
Most victims of human trafficking are vulnerable individuals who the traffickers take advantage of. If you had been promised a better life when you arrive in California and find that it is not the case, you could find an attorney to help you legalize your stay and avoid prosecution or deportation.
Overview of T Visas for Victims of Human Trafficking
T visa is the relief that allows a victim of human trafficking in America to stay in the country and avoid prosecution as an illegal immigrant. As a foreigner seeking a T nonimmigrant visa, the first condition is that you are already in America through human trafficking. This means that you cannot apply for this type of visa in a different country.
This visa, just like other visas, has various conditions that must be met for eligibility, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Besides being in the U.S., you can also apply for a T-1 nonimmigrant status if you are in American Samoa, at an American port-of-entry because of human trafficking, or the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. You can also apply for this visa if you have been permitted to enter the country to participate in an investigation or judicial process associated with a human trafficker.
To obtain your T-1 status, you must complete a Form l-914. This is the same form that all persons requiring a T category visa must use or fill.
Who is Eligible for a T Visa or Status?
As earlier stated, not every applicant or person requiring a visa is eligible to apply for a T category one. If you apply for a visa in the wrong category, you will have your application denied. Some of the situations that qualify you for a T nonimmigrant visa are:
- You presently or previously were a victim of human trafficking, as earlier discussed.
- You are currently in the U.S, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa, or any American port of entry because of human trafficking.
- That you adhere to reasonable requests from law enforcement agencies investigating and prosecuting human trafficking crimes unless you are below 18. Additionally, if you cannot cooperate with investigating officers due to psychological or physical trauma, it won't be held against you.
- You must show that you would suffer severe hardship that can cause you significant harm in case you are deported from the U.S.
In addition to the above conditions, you must show your admissibility into the country. In case you are inadmissible, you may be qualified to request a waiver depending on particular aspects of your inadmissibility.
T Visa for a Family Member
As a victim of human trafficking that has applied for a T visa, the law allows you to apply for a visa for an immediate family member or members. The application must be submitted to the USCIS together with you or after you have obtained yours. Your age is a critical factor in determining the type of T visa you can apply for. The visas you can apply for include:
- If below 21, you can apply for a T-2 visa for your spouse, T-3 for your children, T-4 for your parents, and T-5 if you have unmarried siblings below 18.
- If you are above 21 years, you can only apply for a T-2 visa for your spouse and a T-3 for your children.
- Age can sometimes be disregarded if the family members you left behind are in danger of revenge because of your escaping from the trafficker and cooperating with law enforcement agencies. In this case, immigration laws will allow you to apply for a T-4 visa for your parents and a T-5 for your siblings below 18 years.
If you qualify as a family member to obtain a T visa under the principal applicant, they can file to obtain a T nonimmigrant visa or status on your behalf. The principal applicant is required to complete Form l-914, supplement A, Application for Immediate Family Member of T-1 recipient and submit at the USCIS Vermont Service Center, irrespective of your present location. Before approval is made on the application, the family member between 14 and 79 receives a Notice of Action. This notice instructs them to visit the USCIS center nearest to them to have their fingerprints taken.
Sometimes a USCIS center may not be available in the country you come from. In this case, the American consulate or embassy in your current country will take the fingerprints and forward them. At the consulate or embassy, be sure to explain to the officer that you require your fingerprints taken as a requirement for Form l-914, Supplement A. Importantly, the consulate or embassy will not contact you for this, meaning once you receive the notice, it is your duty to have the prints taken.
After the process is completed, the USCIS evaluates the application and approves or disapproves the application. Whatever the outcome, you will be informed of it in writing. If the request is granted, an approval notice under Form l-797, Notice of Action, is sent to you stating the application's approval.
How to Apply for T Status or Visas for Family Members
Some steps must be followed in applying for any visa. How the steps are followed and completed varies from one consulate or embassy to another. Depending on where you are, it is important to consult with the consulate or embassy from where you apply. Some of the steps that must be followed are:
Completing a Visa Application Form Online
When applying for a nonimmigrant visa, you must fill an online Form DS-160 online. Once the form is completed as required, you are required to print the confirmation page that you must bring to the interview. As you complete this form online, you will be asked to upload a photo of yourself. Ensure your photo meets the requirements set that include:
- The photo should be colored.
- The size is also critical. Your head in the photo should measure between an inch and 1 3/8 inches, which is 22mm to 35mm.
- The photo must be a recent image of yourself taken not more than six months before your application.
- The background of the photo must be plain and not colored.
- Your face must directly face the camera.
- Your facial expression must be neutral with your eyes open.
- The clothes in the photo must be your everyday wear.
- You must not take the photo with a uniform unless they are religious, and you wear them daily.
- The photo must not be taken with a hat on or with anything covering the head or hairline unless it is for religious purposes and worn each day.
- If you must have a headgear, ensure it does not cast shadows that will obscure your face.
- You should not have gadgets on you as you take the photo, such as headphones and others.
- Until recently, you could take a photo with your glasses on. However, this has been discontinued unless you recently had eye surgery and required the glasses to protect your eyes as they heal. Even when you have the glasses because of medical reasons, they must meet the following requirements:
- The frames must not obscure your eyes.
- The glasses must not reflect on the photo hiding your eyes.
- The glasses must not cast shadows that block your eyes in the photo.
- Although gadgets are not allowed on you, an exception is made where you wear hearing aids.
Fortunately, the website displays samples of the photos that are acceptable to upload. This is a critical element that, if not adhered to, can result in the denial of your application.
Booking your Interview
If the principal T-1 recipient's Form l-914, Supplement A, has been granted by the USCIS, you must apply to have a T visa from the American consulate or embassy in your state. After receiving Form l-979 from USCIS, you need to start the application process and book the interview date immediately. As earlier discussed, the American consulate or embassy in your country will not reach out to you, but you will reach out to them.
Generally, interviews are not needed for every person, but the decision on who attends an interview is at the embassy's discretion. Applicants below 13 years do not have to be interviewed, while those between 14 and 79 are required. If you are over 80 years, you are likely not going to be asked to come for an interview for the visa.
Scheduling for an interview date can be done at any embassy, but you stand a better chance of having the visa if you applied at the consulate in your country or where you permanently reside. Your location, visa category, or season when you make the application determine your appointment's waiting time.
Preparing for your Meeting
After booking the date for the interview, the next step involves preparation for the meeting. You will be required to submit a visa application fee of $160, which is nonrefundable. This means that even if your visa is denied, you will not be refunded the fee, and should you reapply, you will still pay the fees.
Whether you have applied for a T-2 or T-3 or T-4 or T-5 visa, you must put together crucial documents necessary for your interview. These include:
- You must attend the interview with a valid passport from your government. The passport must not be up for renewal for about half a year beyond your stay. If other persons are shared in the passport, your application will not represent them, but they must own separate applications.
- You must present the printed copy of the confirmation page you received after completing Form DS-160.
- When you paid the application fees, the system acknowledged the payment by sending you a receipt. Ensure to have this receipt printed and present it at the interview.
- As earlier discussed, your current photo is required. Besides the uploaded photo, you must also bring a printed one to your interview.
- At the interview, you will also be required to submit your Form l-797, Notice of Action issued by the USCIS that indicates Form l-914, Supplement A, was approved.
What Happens During the Interview?
On the date of the interview, ensure to arrive at the embassy early. You will then be shown to the consular officer to interview you to establish if you qualify to have the visa and the category you qualify for. The consular officer will see that the immigration law requirements are met to grant you a visa for your category.
Next, you will be required to take fingerprints, which is part of the application process. These prints are digital with no ink required. A consular officer will communicate to you if additional processing is required. Once your visa is granted, you may be required to pay issuance fees depending on your country. You will then be informed on how to have your visa and passport reach you.
Entering the U.S.
If your visa is granted, it is the right time to start preparing for your travel. Never procure your tickets or make other travel arrangements before you are granted the visa. The reason for this is simply that there is no guarantee you will receive a visa, and making prior arrangements can cause you to regret it.
Having a visa similarly does not guarantee your entry to the country. A Visa generally allows you to travel up to a port of entry, which could be the airport where further permission is sought to enter the country. The discretion of who enters the country is left to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). At your port of entry, you will encounter officials from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) who are given the mandate to deny or admit you into the country.
If permission to enter is granted, the CBP officer will issue you with Form l-94 that has an admission stamp indicating your arrival and departure dates.
Extending your Visa
It is illegal to stay in the country beyond the time allowed in your visa. As a holder of a T visa, you may require to stay longer in America. You must apply for the extension through the USCIS before the expiry of your visa. If your request is granted, you will legally continue being in the U.S until the date of your departure. If the application is denied, you must exit the country before or on the day indicated in your admission form.
If you fail to exit the country as expected, you will be out of status. According to immigration laws, your visa is automatically voided in such a case. If your visa were multiple entries, it would also be voided, meaning any future entries will be denied. Additionally, this can also lead to the denial of future visa applications to the U.S.
Revoking of your T Status
If the DHS revokes your T-1 status, it is unfortunate because all the family members that obtained their T status based on you being the principal applicant will also have their status revoked. Additionally, if your family members living in other countries have applied for their T visas and are waiting for approval, their applications will also be automatically denied.
Adjusting your Status
After your stay in the U.S., you may want to adjust your status to become a permanent residence. This is possible with holders of T visas. If eligible for a change of status, you must complete Form l-485, which shows your intention to become a permanent residence. This form is then filed at the USCIS in Vermont Service Center.
Adjusting your current status means obtaining a green card. Before you qualify for a green card, the immigration law expects you to meet some conditions that include:
- You are legally in America under a T-1 visa
- Your T-1 nonimmigrant visa is valid at the time of requesting a change in status
- You have continuously stayed in America for:
- Three years from when you were legally admitted under a T-1 visa or
- You have been present during the investigation of human trafficking and prosecution of the perpetrators until the case is said to be complete.
- From the date you were issued with a T visa, you have continued to demonstrate that your moral character is excellent, and you have a pending application to change your status. Additionally, you must also show that:
- You have agreed with requests within reason to help investigators and prosecutors in a human trafficking case, and you continue to do so while holding your T status
- You must show that if you are removed, you will be exposed to significant harm or
- When you were trafficked, you were below 18 years
Besides these conditions, the law must find you admissible to America as a permanent resident. If not, the USCIS must have granted you a waiver on grounds unique to your situation.
Find an Los Angeles Immigration Lawyer Near Me
Obtaining a T visa can be complex, especially with the need to prove that you were brought into the country under pretenses and victim of human trafficking. An experienced immigration lawyer can help you through the process by providing all the necessary information to the appropriate state agencies. If you are in California through trafficking, we at California Immigration Attorney can help you obtain your T status. Call our office at 424-789-8809 to discuss your case further.