The New York City Commission on Human Rights (“CCHR”) has recently become the first and only anti-discrimination agency in a major U.S. city to provide U and T Visa certifications. As our Award Winning New York Anti-Discrimination Attorney has written extensively on the CCHR, he has been asked to review and comment, generally, on the recent changes to the law. This blog generally discusses U Visa and T Visa certifications.
What is a U Visa? What is a T Visa?
The two non-immigrant visas – the U visa and the T visa – were partly created by the federal Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (“VTVPA”). The VTVPA was enacted to combat human trafficking and to reauthorize certain federal programs to prevent violence against immigrant women and children. The intent of the law is to encourage victims of these crimes to come forward and cooperate with law enforcement without needing to be concerned about their immigration status.
In order to qualify for the U visa,
1. An individual must be a victim, indirect victim or qualifying bystander who suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as the result of a qualifying crime of:
• Abusive sexual contact,
• Domestic violence,
• False imprisonment,
• Felonious assault,
• Female genital mutilation,
• Fraud in foreign labor contracting,
• Being held hostage,
• Involuntary servitude,
• Obstruction of justice,
• Peonage (i.e. debt slavery or debt servitude),
• Sexual abuse,
• Sexual Assault,
• Sexual exploitation,
• Slave trade,
• Unlawful criminal restraint,
• Witness tampering
This also applies to victims of the attempt, conspiracy, or solicitation to commit any of the above mentioned crimes or a similar activity;
2. The victim, indirect victim or qualifying bystander must possess/ have possessed information concerning the criminal activity;
3. The law enforcement agency (now including the CCHR) must certify the victim was, is, or is likely to be helpful in the investigation or prosecution of the criminal activity;
4. The criminal activity must have violated U.S. law or occurred in the U.S., and 5. The victim must be admissible to the U.S. or qualify for a waiver.
The T visa, in contrast, is set aside specifically for those who are or have been victims of human trafficking and are present in the U.S. as a result of the trafficking. To be eligible for the T visa, the individual must have traveled to the U.S. because they were recruited, forced, abducted, or deceived by a human trafficking perpetrator, and would not be present in the U.S. but for those actions.
Both visas are temporary, however, and valid for four years. After three years, the victim/visa-holder may apply for permanent residency (i.e. a greed card) if they meet the various requirements (such as, in the case of the U visa, assisting the law enforcement agency with the investigation or prosecution of the crime.)
As the CCHR is a quasi-prosecutorial agency, its central mandate is to investigate allegations or discrimination and prosecute those claims when it has been determined that probable cause exists. Too often, however, victims of discrimination, who are also undocumented residents, do not come forward to report their claims because they are concerned about their immigration status. This creates a class of people who have become ripe for exploitation and discrimination- after all, who can they complain to without harming themselves? The result is a frustration of the CCHR’s purpose, the continuing victimization of people who have already been victimized, and empowering those who would violate the law.
With the enactment of the VTVPA, it is hoped that victims of discrimination will feel encouraged to come forward. By issuing U or T visa certifications, the Commission will encourage undocumented immigrants to report such activity while protecting those who speak up about crimes that may also constitute sexual harassment, discrimination, etc.
CCHR Commissioner and Chair Carmelyn P. Malalis has stated, “as a civil law enforcement agency with investigatory authority, the Commission is well-situated to identify crimes that may qualify immigrants for U and T visa certification, including sexual assault in the workplace, tenant harassment, forced labor, extortion and human trafficking. Everyone in New York City is protected under the New York City Human Rights Law, regardless of their immigration status. Issuing certification will bring victims of abuse one step closer to the justice they deserve.”
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