The Department of Homeland Security recently issued a statement about forced alien labor and T-1 visas.
The heading promises a “victim-centered” approach, but if you read the fine print you will see that the new initiatives seem to be focused not so much on the victims, but on facilitating chain migration. How else can you explain nonimmigrant visas, and later green cards for (under some circumstances) the nieces, nephews, and grandchildren of those alleged alien victims of trafficking and forced labor?
It is important to bring alien labor traffickers and exploitative bosses to justice, and it is useful to grant at least temporary legal presence to the victims to get them to cooperate with law enforcement. But what DHS has done is to take an appropriately modest program and use it as a gateway for as many aliens as possible, and giving all and sundry as many benefits as possible.
As background, there are linked sets of nonimmigrant visas and later green cards for those who cooperate with law enforcement (defined loosely) on trafficking and forced labor matters. There are T-1 nonimmigrant visas for the victims and their families (defined even more loosely), and then, as if the nonimmigrant visas did not take care of the problem, there are green cards for the extended families of the victims and a whole slew of welfare programs available to the victims and to at least some of the family members.
As an example of the sweeping nature of these rulings, here is the definition of those family members eligible for T-1 visas:
Certain qualifying family members of the principal victim may also be eligible for a T Visa. If the principal applicant is under the age of 21 years old, qualifying relatives include:
- the principal’s spouse;
- the principal’s unmarried child(ren);
- the principal’s parent(s); and
- the principal’s unmarried siblings under the age of 18 years.
If the principal applicant is over the age of 21 years old, qualifying relatives include:
- the principal’s spouse; and
- the principal’s unmarried child(ren)
In certain circumstances, the following relatives may be eligible for a T visa if they are in present danger of retaliation as a result of the principal applicant’s escape from trafficking or cooperation with law enforcement:
- the principal’s grandchild;
- the principal’s spouse’s child (if not otherwise already eligible as the principal’s child) and
- the principal’s sibling (if not otherwise already eligible, such as those over the age of 18 or married), and the principal’s niece or nephew.
Elsewhere in the regulations, I am sure, there are definitions that include at least some step-relatives in this coverage.
The T-1 visa, not only comes with a work permit and a chance later for a green card, it also comes with a plethora of benefits, run through the various states’ offices of refugee affairs. Once the victim has cooperated enough, filled out the right forms correctly, and secured something called an HHS Certification Letter, he or she gets access to a wide range of programs, modeled on the treatment of refugees. Here is a listing of the benefits from a document from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (under the “Adult with an HHS Certification Letter” tab):
In addition to aid that is available to all individuals, an adult with HHS Certification may also be eligible for these programs.
- Public Housing Program Visit disclaimer page
- Tenant-Based Vouchers Visit disclaimer page
- Medicaid Visit disclaimer page
- Refugee Medical Assistance
- Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) Medical Screenings
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
- Refugee Cash Assistance
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Visit disclaimer page
- Job Corps Visit disclaimer page
- Title IV Federal Student Financial Aid Visit disclaimer page
Multiple Needs Assistance
- Voluntary Agency Matching Grant Program
- Refugee Support Services and Targeted Assistance
The right to a work permit, not mentioned above, is far more important than anything the Job Corps has to offer. Why the word “Visit” gets a capital letter, and the following words “disclaimer page” do not, is one of life’s little mysteries.
The Numbers. While the beneficiaries and benefits are both defined loosely, this program, unlike the broader one (U visas) for crime victims, has not attracted large numbers of users. There is an annual limit of 5,000 for the nonimmigrant visas, and DHS points out that this number (again unlike the U visas) has never been reached.
In FY 2020, for example, there were 3,365 decisions made on T-1 nonimmigrant petitions. Of these 2,076 were approved and 1,289 were denied; this is a denial rate of 38 percent, well above the 5 percent to 10 percent denial rates of all USCIS petitions.
As to the conversion of T-1 visas to green cards, in FY 2019, there were only 818 of them. Of these, 398 were for principals and 420 were for five different kinds of relatives, or chain migrants, according to Table 7 of the 2019 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics.