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Labor T Visas and Modern-Day Slavery in the United States

November 01, 2023
  • Individual Immigration

“The American dream is a powerful attraction for destitute and desperate people across the globe, and where there is need, there is greed from those who will attempt to exploit these willing workers for their own obscene profits.” – U.S. Attorney David Howard Estes

In November 2021, U.S. federal agents raided a blueberry farm in Georgia as part of an operation called “Blooming Onion.” The agents were not there to arrest and deport undocumented immigrants. Years of investigation had told them what they would find: workers kept in cramped, unsanitary living conditions and being forced to continue working using threats of deportation and violence. These workers were brought to the United States under false pretenses, then underpaid and mistreated. The U.S. Department of Justice said more than 100 individuals were freed from 20 locations across the state of Georgia, all part of an organized crime operation that profited millions of dollars from human trafficking and forced labor. Eagan Immigration is proud to have recently taken on a client who was liberated from one of these locations. He has now begun the process of getting legal status in the United States through a T Visa application based on his experiences.

The reality is, although we think of slavery as something in the past, many people today work or live in conditions where their freedom has been taken from them. The U.S. Department of Justice’s Human Trafficking Hotline received 50,123 calls, texts, and other messages in 2021 alone. Even in the United States, which prides itself on values of freedom and justice, law enforcement struggles to protect vulnerable people, including the thousands of migrants who come every year from Latin America to work and seek better lives. When they come without documentation, they are at a higher risk of being exploited.

One of the tools our government uses to help fight human trafficking is what we call a “T Visa.” Officially “T Nonimmigrant Status” is not a visa, but an immigration benefit created to help victims of human trafficking in the United States and to ensure they can safely identify their traffickers to law enforcement. In the widest definition, undocumented immigrants currently in the United States, who have been made to believe they had to continue working or providing services despite abusive circumstances that made them want to leave, may qualify for a T Visa. Commonly, victims are threatened, held captive in some way, and either not paid or paid less than they are owed. To qualify for a T Visa, except in rare circumstances, you cannot have left the United States since the incident, unless as part of the trafficking.

What made our “Blooming Onion” client qualify for a T Visa?

  • Promised $0.80 per completed task, but only paid for 3/4 of his tasks
  • Later promised $11 per hour, but only paid $8 an hour
  • Worked 36 hours a week, but only paid for 33 hours
  • Manager determined hours to pay client, no matter actual hours
  • Promised housing would be provided for free, but housing costs were taken out of pay
  • Housed in crowded, unsanitary conditions
  • Pay reduced for unexpected reasons, such as utilities, food, immigration application fees
  • Identification documents confiscated by employer
  • Insulted, yelled at, or punished for complaining about treatment
  • Threatened with deportation or suspension of visa application
  • Made to fear complaints could get coworkers deported
  • Taken to a different state
  • Forced to do different work than agreed to
  • Never paid for some work

Who else qualifies for a T Visa?

“Blooming Onion” was a dramatic instance of traffickers operating an organized plot to exploit their workers, but many similar situations happen across the country on a smaller scale and across industries. Even the actions of one person exploiting another can qualify as trafficking, whether they are independent or part of a larger company. At Eagan Immigration, many of our labor T Visa cases are based on work in construction, childcare, housekeeping, food service, truck driving, or agriculture.

In a previous Eagan blog, we also look at specific trafficking cases for smuggling (clients who were forced to work by the people they paid to bring them to the U.S.), and sex trafficking (clients who were forced to have sex by or with their traffickers.) In some cases, people are forced to work by family members who promised to help them once they arrived in the United States. In others, what starts as a romantic relationship can end with threats, abuse, and demands for domestic labor or sex.

They all qualify for T Visas because of one thing: a trafficker using force, fraud, and/or coercion to take advantage of their victim to get free or cheap labor or services from individuals lacking legal status in the United States. Many victims of trafficking experience life-long mental health issues because of the stress and abuse they experience, and at Eagan we do our best to connect client with the resources they need to heal and recover.

What happens to the trafficker when I file a T Visa?

Although the traffickers in “Blooming Onion” will go to court and face long prison sentences, that isn’t always the case. To meet the requirements of the T visa, Eagan Immigration reports the essential details of our T visa clients’ trafficking incidents. But in most cases, no further action is necessary from our clients. It’s up to law enforcement to decide what to pursue out of the hundreds or thousands of reports they receive each year. In the event that a T Visa case does lead to legal action against the trafficker, Eagan Immigration will prepare and guide you through that process, always protecting your privacy and best interests.

What do I need to begin my application with Eagan Immigration?

All you need is your story. If you think you or someone you know might qualify for T Nonimmigrant Status, reach out to us today to schedule a 45-minute evaluation. If we think you have a case, we will walk you through the rest of the process from there.

* Remember that all cases are different and if you have a similar situation, Eagan Immigration does not guarantee that your case will be approved. Also consider that our clients’ identities and other information is confidential and has been changed for their privacy and security.

Check out our YouTube channel for even more examples of real T Visa cases.

Do you know someone who has gone through a similar situation? We can help you!

We specialize in resolving complicated immigration cases. If you would like to obtain work permission, travel permission or permanent residence, call us at 202-709-6439 or leave your information here to schedule a consultation and qualify your case.