Congress created both the U and T visas in 2000 as part of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act to encourage undocumented immigrants to come forward and report crimes, and to assist law enforcement in investigations and prosecutions of criminal activity. Congress has capped the number of available U visas to 10,000 per fiscal year and T visas to 5,000.
The NYC Commission on Human Rights is a civil law enforcement agency that investigates and prosecutes a wide range of offenses under the NYC Human Rights Law. In the course of investigating discrimination complaints, the Commission may discover criminal activity that could qualify victims for a U or T visa, such as sexual harassment in the workplace that involves sexual assault, a landlord harassing a tenant to vacate the building by threatening to report them to the police or an employer exploiting a worker under threat of deportation or other harm. The Commission is a law enforcement agency that has the power to issue U or T visa certifications.
Due to their undocumented status, many immigrants do not report crimes such as domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking for fear of being deported from the U.S.
The U visa allows undocumented immigrant victims of crime to temporarily remain in the U.S. for up to four years while assisting law enforcement in investigations and prosecutions, and provides them with a chance to legally work, integrate into their communities and get on a pathway to lawful permanent residence.
The T visa, which applies only to undocumented immigrants who have been trafficked into the U.S. allows victims to remain in the U.S. for up to three years to assist in the investigations or prosecutions of trafficking crimes .
According to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), crimes that qualify for U visa certification include rape, torture, trafficking, incest, stalking, domestic violence, sexual assault, abusive sexual contact, prostitution, extortion and sexual exploitation, among others. The list of qualifying crimes is not exclusive and includes similar criminal activity depending on the jurisdiction. Crimes that qualify for T visa certification are limited to sex trafficking and labor trafficking.
Providing New Yorkers with greater access to U and T visa certifications has been one of Mayor de Blasio’s efforts to protect and strengthen New York City’s immigrant communities by encouraging undocumented immigrants to come forward and report crimes that have frequently gone unreported due to fear of deportation from the U.S.
In order to obtain a U visa, a petitioner is required to provide USCIS with a certification from a law enforcement agency confirming that a qualifying crime has occurred and that the victim was helpful, is being helpful, or is likely to be helpful in the investigation. To obtain a T visa, victims have the option to submit a law enforcement agency endorsement that the individual was a victim of human trafficking. Certification is not required in the T visa process, but does give significant weight to the victim’s application. Certification of both the U and T visa does not automatically confer visa status. Only USCIS may issue a U or T visa.
There is no statute of limitations for when a crime occurred or was reported and the signing of the U or T visa certification, nor does a crime have to be previously reported to qualify for certification.
In addition to the Commission, the New York Police Department, the borough District Attorney’s Offices, the Law Department, the Administration for Children’s Services, HRA’s Adult Protective Services also issue U and T visa certifications.
Under the current administration, we do not know if U and T visas will continue to exist, and if so, the number that will be available every fiscal year.
We will keep you abreast of developments concerning the U and T visas, if any, right here on this blog.