T visas for victims of trafficking

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Massachusetts Law Reform Institute

T visas are for victims of human trafficking who are in the U.S. and are willing to help with the investigation or prosecution of human trafficking.

Immigration law can be complicated. It is important to talk to a good immigration lawyer before you apply for a T visa.

What is human trafficking?

Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery. Traffickers make false promises about jobs and a better life in exchange for money or work. The T non-immigrant visa lets victims stay in the U.S. to help authorities in the investigation and prosecution of human trafficking cases.

Trafficking has many different forms. Even if you chose to come to the U.S. or chose to take a job, you could still be a victim of trafficking. 

You may not realize that you are a victim of trafficking. Some signs of trafficking may include: 

  • little or no pay,
  • being forced to pay off a debt through work or sex,
  • threats of violence,
  • threats of reporting you to immigration or other law enforcement,
  • control over your living conditions, communication, and identity documents. 

For something to be seen as “trafficking,” there are many things to look at. It depends on the type of work, and the use of force, fraud, or coercion to get or continue the work.

Under federal law, the term “severe forms of trafficking” can be complicated. But in general, it is broken into 2 categories.

Sex trafficking

Sex trafficking is when you are put or kept in a situation and used sexually to make money. This can include other things, such as being recruited to do sex work, or transported to a location where you were expected to do sex work even if you never ended up doing sex work. See the explanation of sex trafficking on the USCIS website.


If you were promised another type of job and then told you would have to perform sex acts, this could be considered “trafficking.”

Labor trafficking

Labor trafficking is when you are put or kept in a situation where your work is unfair and illegal. This includes if you are asked to do unfair or illegal work, or transported to do such work. 

It also includes if someone forced you to work, or lied to you about what type of work you would do. 

It might also include saying you owe a debt and must perform work in exchange to pay off that debt or not paying you for work, or not paying the amount required by the law or for overtime.

See the explanation of labor trafficking on the USCIS website.

Am I eligible for a T visa?

You may be eligible for a T visa if:

  1. You are a victim of human trafficking,
  2. You are in the U.S.,
  3. Being removed from the U.S. would cause you extreme hardship, and
  4. You are working with law enforcement in their investigation or prosecution of human trafficking.

You must also be "admissible" to the U.S.

How do I get the certification that I am helpful to law enforcement?

You must report information about the crime to a federal, state, or local law enforcement agency. This might be 

  • a police department, 
  • district attorney’s office, 
  • judge, 
  • the Attorney General’s Office, or 
  • the Department of Children and Families. 

Ask them for a certification. This is a form that says you were helpful, are helpful, or are likely to be helpful to the investigation or prosecution of the crime. A certification is very helpful for your T visa case, but it is not required.

Massachusetts has a law that says all agencies must have a policy for when a person asks for a T visa certification. When you ask for a certification, they must respond within 90 days. There are some exceptions. For more information, see this guide for certifying agencies.

What does it mean to be admissible to the U.S.?

To get a T visa, you must be “admissible” to the U.S. “Admissibility” is an immigration term that has many factors. It includes criminal history, immigration violations, health, and more.

If you are not admissible because of one of these factors, you may be able to get a waiver, which is like a forgiveness or pardon. Talk to a lawyer before you apply for a T visa or any waiver.

What if I was deported from the U.S. before or had other immigration issues?

You may still be eligible for a T visa. T visa applicants must be admissible, but you might be able to get a waiver. Talk to an immigration lawyer to understand if this is possible. 

What immigration status do I get with a T visa?

If you are granted a T visa, you get a 4-year non-immigrant visa and permission to work. You can stay in the U.S. during this period and work. After living in the U.S. for 3 years, you may be eligible for lawful permanent residence (green card).

Can I apply for my family members?

If you are over the age of 21, you may also apply for your spouse and unmarried children. Your unmarried children need to be under 21.

If you are under the age of 21 you may also apply for your spouse, unmarried children under 21, parents, and unmarried siblings under 18.

Can I get lawful permanent residence (a green card)?

T visa holders may be able to apply for lawful permanent residence (green cards).

You may be able to apply if:

  1. You have been in the U.S. without leaving for either: 3 years since you got your T visa, or until the investigation or prosecution is complete, whichever period of time is less.
  2. You have been a person of good moral character,
  3. You have complied with any reasonable request for assistance in the investigation or prosecution of acts of trafficking,
  4. You would suffer extreme hardship if you had to leave the U.S.,
  5. You are admissible to the United States as a permanent resident,
  6. You have been a T visa holder for at least 3 years.

Your family members may also be eligible for green cards if they got T status through your application.

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