The New York City Mayor’s Office announced earlier this year that the New York City Commission on Human Rights (NYCCHR) will issue certifications for U and T visas, which are available to victims of human trafficking and certain other crimes. Federal immigration law allows certain state and local agencies to issue certifications, which are a required component of a petition for these types of visas. The NYCCHR is reportedly the first anti-discrimination agency in a large U.S. city to offer U and T visa certifications.
Congress created two types of visas in the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000. The T visa is available to up to 5,000 people per year who “[are] or ha[ve] been a victim of a severe form of trafficking in persons.” 8 U.S.C. §§ 1101(a)(15)(T), 1184(o). Federal law defines “severe forms of trafficking in persons” (SFTP) to include sex trafficking and various forms of forced labor. 22 U.S.C. § 7102(9). In order to qualify for a T visa, an individual must show that they have complied with any applicable law enforcement investigation, to the extent that they are able. Finally, a person must be able to demonstrate that removal would cause them “extreme hardship involving unusual and severe harm.” 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15)(T)(i)(IV).
The U visa is available to up to 10,000 people per year who have “suffered substantial physical or mental abuse” due to certain criminal acts. 8 U.S.C. §§ 1101(a)(15)(U), 1184(p). The statute lists a wide range of offenses, including torture, trafficking, rape and sexual assault, involuntary servitude, and extortion and blackmail. Id. at § 1101(a)(15)(U)(iii). The crime must have occurred on U.S. territory or must otherwise be covered by U.S. law. The person must demonstrate that they have information about such criminal activity and that they have been or could be helpful to law enforcement. Spouses, children, and other dependents of a person who meet the criteria for either visa may also qualify.
A petition for either visa requires a certification from a law enforcement agency. For a T visa, the certification must state that there is no “substantial reason to believe” that the person has themselves committed an act of SFTP. 8 U.S.C. § 1184(o)(1). A U visa certification must state that the person “has been helpful, is being helpful, or is likely to be helpful” in an investigation or prosecution. Id. at § 1184(p)(1). Agencies at the federal, state, and local levels may issue U and T visa certifications. 8 C.F.R. § 214.14(a)(2).
The NYCCHR joins other city agencies that already issue U and T visa certifications, including the New York Police Department, the District Attorney’s Offices, and the child and adult protective services agencies. Each agency has developed rules and procedures regarding certifications. The NYCCHR is expected to promulgate its own rules at some point in the near future.
Immigration lawyer Samuel C. Berger represents immigrants, prospective immigrants, and family- or employment-based petitioners in the New York City and Northern New Jersey areas. Contact us online, at (201) 587-1500, or at (212) 380-8117 today to schedule a confidential consultation with an experienced and skilled advocate for immigrants’ rights.
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