According to the Department of Homeland Security, human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion in order to obtain some type of labor from another person. This includes nonconsensual commercial sex acts. Human trafficking is a significant example of modern day slavery.

The United States is the destination point for approximately 50,000 people every year. These people have been abducted, tricked, or forced from their home countries into labor or prostitution. An example of human trafficking would be when an ad in another country promises modeling work in the United States for several thousand dollars, in exchange for the transportation fees and passports.

People that fall for the scam are sold, or forced into farm labor or nonconsensual prostitution for the rest of their lives. They face extreme physical harm and death if they do not comply with the demands of their trafficker.

Victims of forced labor in the United States can be citizens. Or, they may originate from some other region of the world, regardless of whether they have entered the U.S. with or without legal status. Traffickers frequently target vulnerable populations, such as:

  • People without lawful immigration status;
  • People who have incurred recruitment debts; and
  • Those who are isolated, impoverished, or disabled.

Trafficking or forced labor victims rarely come forward, or seek help escaping their situation. This is due to the fact that:

  • They may be unable to escape their physical environment;
  • They are too vulnerable to seek assistance, such as being children;
  • Potential language barriers may exist; and/or
  • They do not self-recognize as a victim of trafficking.

United States law enforcement has uncovered forced labor in a variety of industries, including but not limited to:

  • Illicit massage businesses;
  • Domestic work;
  • Agriculture; and
  • Factory work.

Some specific examples of when forced labor appears include:

  • Door-to-door sales crews;
  • Bars and restaurants;
  • Peddling and begging;
  • Health and beauty services;
  • Construction;
  • Hospitality; and
  • Commercial cleaning services.

Signs of forced labor may occur during the worker’s recruitment process to:

  • Force the worker’s acceptance of the job;
  • Deceive the worker into an exploitative job; and/or
  • Create debt bondage by charging recruitment fees that cannot be paid back reasonably, or in a timely manner.

Once the person is working, their employer may force, defraud, or coerce the victim to do work that was not agreed to at the time of recruitment. Additionally, force, threats of harm, and other abusive practices may be used as a measure to prevent the victim from leaving the job. Threats may be made against the victim, or the victim’s loved ones.

What Has The United States Government Done To Stop Human Trafficking?

The Victims of Trafficking Violence Protection Act (“VTVPA”) was passed in 2000. As a federal statute, it applies to U.S. citizens as well as authorizes protections for undocumented immigrants who are victims of severe human trafficking and violence.

In 2013, the entirety of the VTVPA was attached as an amendment to the Violence Against Women Act, and was passed. The effect of this is that the United States now offers a T nonimmigrant status (I-914) to those who have been illegally brought to the United States against their will. However, there are two stipulations that an applicant must meet in order to receive the benefits and protections of the T-Visa.

First, a victim of trafficking must prove and admit to being a victim of a severe form of trafficking. Second, they must be a part of the prosecution process of their trafficker. It is important to note that this law does not apply to immigrants who are seeking admission into the United States for any other immigration purposes.

Because the law requires the applicant to participate in the prosecution of their trafficker, trafficked people may be fearful of retaliation, either to themself or their family. Unfortunately, this is a major deterrent to victims who are even considering application. The law does contain provisions for the protection of those who are categorized as victims of human trafficking primarily for:

  • Sex;
  • Smuggling; and
  • Forced labor forms of exploitation.

The T nonimmigrant status, which will be discussed further below, allows victims of human trafficking to remain in the United States for several years. It also offers permanent residency in cases involving extreme hardship. Additionally, the T nonimmigrant status allows family members of the victim to remain with them in the United States.

What Is A T-1 Visa?

The purpose of the T-1 visa is to provide protection to victims of human trafficking, who are physically present in the U.S. due to such trafficking. In order to receive a T-1 visa, you must have made contact with law enforcement. This can be either by reporting a crime, or by responding to their questions.

If you have spoken with either state or local law enforcement, a federal law enforcement agency must also be alerted in order for you to obtain a T visa. This is due to the fact that only federal agencies have the authority to investigate claims of human trafficking.

In order to apply for a T-1 Visa, you must complete Form I-914 “Application for T Nonimmigrant Status.” Some of the requirements of Form I-914 include:

  • The correct fee, or a request for a fee waiver;
  • Current photos and a fingerprint fee; and
  • Evidence that you would suffer extreme hardship if you were removed from the U.S.

If you have applied for, or have a T-1 visa, you can also apply to have your immediate family members admitted to the U.S. This is done by showing that they would suffer extreme hardship if they were not allowed to join you. An example of this would be if your trafficker has threatened to track and harm your family.

The T-1 Visa is valid for three years from the date on which it is issued. It is non-renewable; however, you can apply for permanent resident status within the 90 days that follow the visa expiration.

What Can I Do About Human Trafficking?

It is not advised that you confront someone you suspect of human trafficking on your own; you should report them to the appropriate authorities. However, there are some steps you can take to educate yourself so that you will be prepared to report.

One of the first steps you can take would be to learn how to identify and assist a trafficking victim. Human trafficking awareness training is available for individuals, as well as:

  • Businesses;
  • First responders;
  • Law enforcement;
  • Educators; and
  • Federal employees.

Some indicators of human trafficking include, but may not be limited to:

  • Living with their employer;
  • Especially poor living accommodations;
  • The inability to speak with the individual alone;
  • Signs of physical abuse; and
  • Responses appear to be scripted, or rehearsed.

If you are in the United States and believe someone may be a victim of human trafficking, you should call the 24-hour National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888. Or, report an emergency to law enforcement by calling 911. The U.S. Department Of State website maintains a list of twenty ways in which you can help fight human trafficking in the United States.

Do I Need An Attorney For Human Trafficking Issues?

If you or someone you know is or has been a victim of human trafficking, there are legal ways for the victim to remain in the United States while also remaining protected from human trafficking. An experienced and local immigration lawyer can assist a victim of human trafficking with finding safe haven in the United States, as well as preparing any necessary paperwork in order to establish legal residency.

As the victim’s safety and wellbeing is absolutely imperative, it is important to reiterate that you should immediately call the 24-hour hotline if you suspect someone is a victim of human trafficking.