Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) called on U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to improve the implementation of the T visa program, which provides a path to legal status for immigrant survivors of human trafficking.
In 2000, Congress created the T visa program for immigrant survivors of human trafficking who are willing to assist law enforcement with trafficking investigations and to help them become lawful permanent residents. The program is a vital tool for helping survivors rebuild their lives in the U.S. However, it has been underutilized and many survivors have faced significant challenges in accessing the benefits it provides. In addition to burdensome requirements, Trump administration policies later rescinded by President Biden, and COVID-related backlogs at USCIS have increased wait times for these visas, leaving survivors in limbo for years.
“We are writing to request that USCIS take steps to improve the implementation of the T visa program,” wrote the senators. “As you know, the T visa program has been underutilized since its inception in 2000, and it experienced a marked increase in visa denials during the previous administration. Additionally, the strain placed on the immigration system at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic caused a significant spike in wait times for the processing of visa applications across the board.”
“We appreciate that the Biden administration has already taken several steps to address these concerns,” the senators continued. “However, given the humanitarian nature of these visas and the vulnerability of the applicants waiting to receive them, we encourage USCIS to take additional steps toward improving the efficiency and transparency of the program.”
Immigrant survivors can expect to wait roughly 18 months for a final decision when they apply for a T visa, and they are unable to work during this period. Senators Cortez Masto and Feinstein are asking USCIS to bring the T visa program in line with other humanitarian programs by allowing applicants to obtain work permits while they wait for a visa. The Senators are also urging more training for the immigration officers who review T visa applications and asking USCIS to expand access to an email hotline that ICE officers can contact to expedite a T visa application if they believe a trafficking survivor is facing deportation.
The text of the letter is available HERE.
Senator Cortez Masto is a national leader in the fight against trafficking and exploitation. She wrote the law making human trafficking a felony crime in Nevada as Attorney General, and her federal legislation to help train law enforcement to identify and prevent child trafficking and to combat human trafficking activity on social media was recently signed into law. She is also leading bipartisan legislation to combat trafficking at transportation hubs, and she has introduced legislation to protect immigrant youth who have been abandoned, abused, or neglected by their parents or guardians and have faced horrific conditions in their home countries.