Immigration and Trafficking

The Office of Immigrant Affairs encourages noncitizen domestic workers to obtain a legal consultation if they may have experienced mistreatment, abuse or exploitation by their employer. The workplace rights and protections described on our For Workers page apply to all workers, regardless of immigration status. Some immigrant domestic workers who have experienced human trafficking or other serious mistreatment may be eligible for immigration relief.

Human trafficking occurs when someone is compelled by force, fraud, or coercion to provide labor or commercial sex. Domestic workers often face labor conditions that are indicators of this severe form of exploitation.

If you have experienced these forms of abuse at the hands of your employer, you are entitled to help regardless of your age, race, or immigration status:

  • Threats of violence or other abuse
  • Threats to harm your family.
  • Threats to inflict financial harm on you or your family
  • Threats of deportation or calling Immigration authorities
  • Withholding identification documents such as your passport, visa, or other ID.
  • Threats to ruin your reputation by telling sensitive or embarrassing information to your loved ones or others
  • Physical or sexual abuse
  • Restricted movement
  • Constant supervision
  • Change of promised job duties
  • Lack of pay or severe underpayment
  • Abusive labor conditions

Some domestic workers who have experienced these forms of abuse may be eligible for immigration relief: the T Visa or the U Visa. If you believe you have experienced human trafficking or other abuse by a current or former employer, it is important that you obtain legal advice. The Office of Immigrant Affairs can help you to get a free consultation with an immigration attorney. If you believe you’re in a trafficking situation, call the Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking (CAST) hotline at (888) 539-2373 or text BeFree to 233-733 to request services. If you are outside the Los Angeles area, you may call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at (888) 373-7888. These hotlines are available 24/7 and provide immediate, short-term services to ensure the safety and well-being of victims when they first escape their trafficking situation. They can assist you in reporting trafficking to law enforcement, but you are not required to make a report if you call the hotline.

CAST also provides vital social and legal services to trafficking survivors, including immigration services. You may also contact CAST to report a tip about a human trafficking situation even if you are not the victim.

Benefits of the T Visa include:

  • Lawful immigration status and employment authorization for 4 years;
  • The opportunity to apply for lawful permanent residency if certain criteria are met;
  • The right to petition certain family members in the U.S. or abroad for a T visa;
  • Certain forms of public assistance, including cash assistance, food stamps, and job training;
  • In California, survivors of human trafficking are eligible for certain benefits while they are preparing to pursue a T Visa (i.e. even before they apply). These benefits include food stamps, Medi-Cal and 8 months of cash assistance.

If you are over the age of 21, your eligible family members are your:

  • Spouse
  • Unmarried children under age 21

If you are under the age of 21, your eligible family members are your:

  • Parents
  • Unmarried siblings under the age of 18
  • Spouse
  • Unmarried children under age 21

Regardless of your age, you may petition for these family members if they are in danger of retaliation because of your escape from a trafficking situation or your cooperation with law enforcement:

  • Parents
  • Unmarried siblings under the age of 18
  • Adult or minor children of the relative(s) that you petition for in your T Visa case

An applicant must demonstrate that they:

  • Are a survivor of a severe form of trafficking or attempted trafficking (this includes labor trafficking and sex trafficking);
  • Are physically present in the U.S., or at a port of entry (border or airport) on account of the trafficking. The applicant must have remained in the U.S. since the most recent act of trafficking;
  • Have complied with any reasonable request for assistance in investigating or prosecuting the trafficking (if 18 years of age or older);
  • Are at risk of suffering extreme hardship upon removal from the U.S.

Importantly, there is no filing deadline for the T Visa.  A survivor may still qualify if they experienced trafficking years or even decades ago.

Survivors of trafficking may be afraid that they will place their life or the lives of their loved ones in danger by filing a report or cooperating with law enforcement. Cooperation with law enforcement is not required if the applicant is under 18, or if the request for cooperation is not reasonable.

Survivors who have experienced physical or psychological trauma that prevents them from complying with a reasonable request from law enforcement may also qualify for an exception.

f you are concerned about filing a law enforcement report or cooperating in an investigation, or if you want to know if one of the law enforcement cooperation exceptions applies to you, it is important that you obtain legal advice. Your Office of Immigrant Affairs (800-593-8222) can help you to get a free consultation with an immigration attorney.

Yes. Sadly, some persons exploit their relatives, family friends and acquaintances. These relationships can make it even more difficult for the person being exploited to escape or report the trafficking. Survivors often report that they were not aware they were being trafficked or that their working conditions were not normal.

The following example involves human trafficking by a relative:

Maria is from a rural village in Mexico. When she was 14, a husband and wife from her village who settled in Los Angeles spoke to Maria’s parents and offered to help bring her to the US. Maria’s mother is a cousin of the wife so they trusted the couple. The couple offered Maria a place to stay and hope of a better life.

When she arrived, the couple instructed Maria to clean the home, cook, and take care of their baby. They did not enroll Maria in school. Instead, they warned her not leave the home without them because they said Immigration agents often patrol the area. They warned Maria that she could be detained and deported. The couple did not charge Maria rent, but they did not pay her either. Maria stayed with the family for over 4 years. Maria eventually managed to leave the home but never returned to Mexico. She is now 33 years old and undocumented.

In this example, Maria’s parents trusted their relatives in Los Angeles with their daughter. Instead of caring for her and sending her to school, they made her a domestic employee and used the fear of deportation to control her. Even though the trafficking ended over a decade ago, Maria may still be eligible for a T Visa.

It is still important to get a legal consultation with an immigration attorney or accredited representative to determine what immigration options you may have, if any.  Some workers who do not qualify for the T Visa may still be eligible for another form of immigration relief known at the U Visa.

In order to qualify, a U Visa applicant must demonstrate that:

  • They are the victim of qualifying criminal activity
  • They have been, are being, or are likely to be helpful in the investigation or prosecution of criminal activity
  • They suffered substantial physical or mental abuse resulting from criminal activity

An employer’s mistreatment or abuse of a worker can cross the line into criminal behavior. If any of the following behavior, you may be eligible:

  • Your employer physically harmed you in any way
  • Your employer made you feel that you were not able to leave the workplace
  • Your employer threatened to physically harm you or your loved ones
  • Your employer threatened to report you to Immigration, have you arrested, cause you legal problems, or destroy your reputation
  • You filed a legal claim against your employer, and your employer threatened to fire, deport, evict or otherwise harm you if you did not withdraw your claim
  • Your employer touched you in an offensive way
  • Your employer pressured you to engage in sexual behavior

These are just some examples of unlawful behavior by an employer that may qualify you for a U Visa. It is important to speak with an immigration attorney or accredited representative if you have experienced any of this mistreatment at work.

Some of the most common U Visa-qualifying crimes include:

  • Domestic violence
  • Being the victim of a violent attack
  • Being robbed at gunpoint, or with another deadly weapon, even if the weapon wasn’t used.

A full list of qualifying crimes is included below. If you, a spouse or household member has suffered a crime, your Office of Immigrant Affairs encourages you to obtain a legal consultation to determine if you may be eligible for a U Visa.

  • Abduction
  • Abusive Sexual Contact
  • Blackmail
  • Domestic Violence
  • Extortion
  • False Imprisonment
  • Female Genital Mutilation
  • Felonious Assault
  • Fraud in Foreign Labor Contracting
  • Hostage
  • Incest
  • Involuntary Servitude
  • Kidnapping
  • Manslaughter
  • Murder
  • Obstruction of Justice
  • Peonage
  • Perjury
  • Prostitution
  • Rape
  • Sexual Assault
  • Sexual Exploitation
  • Slave Trade
  • Stalking
  • Torture
  • Trafficking
  • Witness Tampering
  • Unlawful Criminal Restraint
  • Other Related Crimes may also qualify
  • Attempt, conspiracy or solicitation to commit any of the crimes above or related crimes may also qualify

U Visa applicants are required to submit a law enforcement certification, Form I-918B, verifying that they suffered a qualifying crime.  U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services cannot approve a U Visa application unless the applicant submits the I-918B certification form. This means that the incident(s) must be investigated.

Whether you report the crime, or you cooperate in an investigation that someone else initiated, you must obtain a signed certification form verifying that law enforcement believes you suffered a qualifying crime.

No. Unlike the T Visa, there are no exceptions for U Visa applicants who cannot obtain a signed law enforcement certification form. U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services cannot approve a U Visa application unless the applicant submits the I-918B certification form.

The police, sheriffs, prosecutors and judges all may sign the Form I-918B certification. It may also be signed by an agency that has authority to investigate the criminal activity. This includes federal, state and local agencies that investigate workplace violations of employment and labor law.

Yes. Prosecution is not required. In some cases, the person who committed the crime may not be arrested. You may still be eligible if you obtain a signed I-918B verifying that law enforcement believes you suffered qualifying criminal activity.

The benefits of the U Visa include:

  • Work authorization while your application is pending*
  • Lawful status for up to four years
  • Eligibility to adjust status to a lawful permanent resident after three years
  • Eligibility for qualifying family members

The federal government has a limit of 10,000 U visas that it can give out each year. Due to the large backlog of cases, new applications will not be approved for well over a decade.

However, if an initial review of the U Visa application demonstrates the application was complete and properly filed, and a criminal background check does not raise any public safety or other concerns, the applicant may be given protection from deportation and a work permit for 4 years, which can be renewed as needed.

If you are over the age of 21, your eligible family members are your:

  • Spouse
  • Unmarried children under age 21

 If you are under the age of 21, your eligible family members are your:

  • Parents
  • Unmarried siblings under the age of 18
  • Spouse
  • Unmarried children under age 21

No, similar to the T Visa, there is no filing deadline for the U Visa.  A crime survivor may still qualify if they suffered a qualifying crime years or even decades ago, if they are able to obtain a law enforcement certification.

U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services provides an overview of the U Visa on its website.  If you need a legal consultation or have questions about your case, there are several nonprofit organizations in the Los Angeles area that provide free immigration legal services to low-income U Visa applicants. Read our website about protecting yourself from fraud and finding the right help. If you need help access a legal service provider, contact your Office of Immigrant Affairs at: 800-593-8222.

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