May 25, 2024
pexels photo 973049

pexels photo 973049

USA

USCIS Strengthens T Nonimmigrant Visa Program and Protections for Trafficking Victims

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WASHINGTON—The Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services today announced a final rule to strengthen the integrity of the T nonimmigrant status (T visa) and ensure eligible victims of human trafficking can access protections and stabilizing benefits on a timely manner. T nonimmigrant status enables certain victims of human trafficking to remain in the United States for an initial period of up to four years.

“We are dedicated to protecting victims of human trafficking and minimizing any potential barriers to assistance,” said USCIS Director Ur M. Jaddou. “This final rule has been many years in the making, and I am thrilled the T visa program now has a firm regulatory framework to support it. Ultimately, this makes our approach more victim-centered and strengthens the integrity of the T visa application process so the program better protects victims, as Congress intended.”

Human trafficking, also known as trafficking in persons, is a crime in which traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion to compel individuals to provide labor or services, including commercial sex. Traffickers often take advantage of vulnerable individuals, including those lacking lawful immigration status. In some cases, people who are smuggled into the United States may become victims of human trafficking or exploitation during their journeys or upon reaching their destination. DHS is committed to protecting communities from an increased threat of human trafficking through strong border enforcement and enhanced consequences for those who do not avail themselves to the many expanded lawful pathways.

T nonimmigrant status offers protection to victims and strengthens the ability of law enforcement agencies to detect, investigate, and prosecute human trafficking. This final rule clarifies T nonimmigrant status eligibility and application requirements and includes provisions to reduce potential barriers to victims and enable USCIS officers to adjudicate victims’ applications more efficiently. The final rule also improves the program’s integrity by clarifying the reporting and evidentiary requirements for victims of trafficking, which will better help law enforcement act on reports of trafficking.

Key elements of the final rule include:

  • Updating and clarifying definitions – including serious harm, abuse, and law enforcement agency – to ensure consistency and standards as described in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, as amended;
  • Improving program efficiency by clarifying reporting and evidentiary requirements on the outset to decrease requests for additional evidence;
  • Streamlining law enforcement agencies’ ability to act on reports of trafficking by requiring victims to report instances of trafficking to the correct law enforcement of jurisdiction; and
  • Simplifying the bona fide determination and adjudication process, while continuing to uphold fraud prevention measures.

In 2016, DHS published an interim rule to respond to public feedback on the T visa program, clarify requirements based on statutory changes, formalize the experience gained from operating the program for more than 14 years, and amend provisions as required by intervening legislation. In July 2021, DHS reopened the public comment period for this interim rule for 30 days and subsequently extended the deadline for comments. This final rule adopts the changes in effect from the 2016 interim rule, clarifies the existing regulatory framework, and substantively addresses the public comments received.

DHS is on the frontlines of combating human trafficking, protecting the country and collaborating with our partners to stop these crimes. Launched in 2020, the DHS Center for Countering Human Trafficking coordinates the efforts of 16 DHS offices and components to combat human trafficking through law enforcement operations, victim protection and support, intelligence and analysis, and public education and training programs. Through the Blue Campaign, the DHS Center for Countering Human Trafficking leads the Department’s national public awareness effort to combat human trafficking. DHS’s ongoing efforts to address online child sexual exploitation and abuse comes after the Department’s Quadrennial Homeland Security Review added combating crimes of exploitation and protecting victims as a sixth mission area in April 2023. Learn more about recent DHS efforts to combat child exploitation and abuse.

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