T or U Visas For Victims of Trafficking or Crime

By: Aurora Vega-Buzon, Esq.

Daphne, a night manager at the Shangri-La Hotel in Manila, was recruited by Hotel Management Incorporated (HMI) to work at a hotel in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. HMI recruits workers from Jamaica, Costa Rica, Honduras, and the Philippines, to work as seasonal workers in various hotels in different cities and states throughout the United States. Daphne was housed in a dorm-room style housing where 40 other hotel workers lived and shared a room with 3 other female workers. Every day, all workers ride in a shuttle from the housing to the hotel where they work, and they were shuttled back to the housing after their shifts. Daphne works 85 hours a week, at $6.50/per hour. Payments for housing and transportation allowances were automatically deducted from their paychecks. HMI also deducts other "fees" to cover the costs of their recruitment, placement and air fare from the Philippines. Thus, Daphne gets only about $380/month which is barely enough for their food and other basic necessities. Daphne does not know that the minimum wage is $7.25, and that she is entitled to overtime pay.

Christian, a high school math teacher from Bacolod, was also recruited to work in the United States by International Teachers Placement (ITP). As placement fee, ITP collected roughly $12,000 from Christian to "guarantee placement". Within 11 months, Christian arrived in the United States with 4 other teachers who, like him, were told will teach at various middle schools in Illinois. They were met at the airport by ITP's president, Mr. Greg Dela Paz who brought them to an apartment where several other teachers recruited by ITP lived. Mr. Dela Paz told Christian and the other teachers that they can stay in the apartment and share in the rent, or find their own housing. One week later, Mr. Dela Paz told Christian and the 4 other teachers that their teaching positions had been filled but they will be assisted in applying in other schools in Illinois or neighboring Iowa.

Daphne and Christian may be eligible to apply for T or U visa classifications, as victims of trafficking and/or other qualifying criminal activity.

What is a T or U Visa? The T Visa classification is available to persons; (i) who have been subject to "severe trafficking," defined as the "use of force, fraud or coercion for sex trafficking, or the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery;" (ii) who are physically present in the United States.; (iii) who the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in consultation with the Attorney General agree have complied with a reasonable request by federal, state or local law enforcement agency to assist in the investigation or prosecution of such trafficking or in the investigation of crimes where acts of trafficking are at least one central reason for the crime; or who is unable to cooperate in the investigation or prosecution due to a physical or psychological trauma; or who is under 18; and (iv) who would "suffer extreme hardship involving unusual and severe harm upon removal.

The U Visa classification, on the other hand, provides temporary immigration benefits to certain victims of qualifying criminal activity who: (1) have suffered substantial mental or physical abuse as a result of having been a victim of " qualifying criminal activity;" (2) possess credible and reliable information establishing that s/he has knowledge of the details concerning the qualifying criminal activity upon which his/her petition is based; and (3) have been helpful, is being helpful, or is likely to be helpful to a certifying agency in the investigation or prosecution of the qualifying criminal activity; and (4) the qualifying criminal activity occurred in the United States, in United States territories or possessions, or violated a federal law that provides for extraterritorial jurisdiction.

Qualifying criminal activity includes one or more of the following, or any other similar activities in violation of federal, state, or local criminal laws: abduction; blackmail; domestic violence; extortion; false imprisonment; felonious assault; female genital mutilation; being held as a hostage; incest; involuntary servitude; kidnapping; manslaughter; murder; obstruction of justice; peonage; perjury; prostitution; rape; sexual assault; (abusive) sexual contact; sexual exploitation; slave trade; torture; trafficking; unlawful criminal restraint; witness tampering; or attempt, conspiracy, or solicitation to commit any of these crimes.

A person granted a T or a U Visa classification may obtain employment authorization, which is incident to the T or U status. In addition, a person granted a T or U Visa classification may further be eligible to adjust status to that of a Lawful Permanent Resident, upon meeting certain criteria and requirements.

A careful evaluation by an experienced law firm will assist an individual in determining whether s/he is eligible for a T or a U visa classification, and what his/her options are under the immigration laws. As a signatory to the U.N. Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, and its supplemental protocols on Trafficking in Persons, the Philippines has created the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) headed by Justice Undersecretary Jose Vicente Salazar. The Philippines works closely with United States Department of State's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. Victims of trafficking or "modern slavery" can also seek the assistance of IACAT and/or assist IACAT in prosecuting traffickers, by calling (011-632) 523-8481 local 216.

Atty. Aurora Vega-Buzon is a partner in The Law Firm of Chua Tinsay and Vega (CTV) - a full service law firm with offices in San Francisco, San Diego and Manila. The information presented in this article is for general information only and is not, nor intended to be, formal legal advice nor the formation of an attorney-client relationship. The CTV attorneys will be holding regular free legal clinics at the Max's Restaurant in Vallejo, California. Call or e-mail CTV for an in-person or phone consultation to discuss your particular situation and/or how their services may be retained at (415) 495-8088; (619) 955-6277; auvega@ctvattys.com
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