Addressing the Needs of Victims of Human Trafficking: Challenges, Barriers, and Promising Practices. Services Available for Victims of Human Trafficking


Prior to the passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA), law enforcement and service providers report struggling to piece together the comprehensive services needed by international victims of human trafficking with scarce resources. Under the TVPA, HHS was designated as the agency responsible for helping these victims of human trafficking become eligible for benefits and services and funds were allocated for the delivery of such benefits and services. One responsibility of HHS is to certify adult international victims of trafficking who are not U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents (LPRs) once they are identified. This certification allows adult international victims to receive the same benefits and services available to refugees. U. S. citizens or LPRs who find themselves victims of trafficking (i.e., domestic victims) do not need to be certified in order to receive benefits. In the case of citizens, they are already eligible for many benefits and services they might need. And although LPRs face greater benefit restrictions than U.S. citizens, they do not face the same eligibility restrictions as undocumented immigrants, which is usually the status of international adult victims when they are first identified. International minor victims of trafficking (under the age of 18) do not need to be certified but instead receive a letter of eligibility from HHS and are then eligible to apply for a similar range of services as refuges, including the Unaccompanied Refugee Minor (URM) Program.

The Unaccompanied Refugee Minor (URM) Program
for International Minor Victims
International minors who are determined to be victims of human trafficking by law enforcement officials are eligible for the T visa, which allows victims of trafficking to remain in the U.S. and become eligible for work authorization. Additionally, international minor victims without a parent or legal guardian in the U.S. are eligible for services under the Unaccompanied Refugee Minors (URM) program. The URM serves as a legal authority designated to act in place of the childs unavailable parents. Children are placed in foster homes, group homes, or independent living arrangements. Through the URM, children can receive intensive case management, education, health care, mental health counseling, independent living skills training, assistance with family reunification and repatriation, and other services until they turn 18 or such higher age, depending on the foster care rules of each state.

In order for an international adult victim of trafficking to receive certification he or she must first be determined to be a victim of a severe form of trafficking as defined by the TVPA and he or she must be willing to comply with all reasonable requests to assist law enforcement in the investigation of the trafficking case (minor victims are exempt from this requirement). Following this determination, the victim must complete a bona fide application for a T visa, receive a T visa, or be granted continued presence by federal law enforcement. T visas were established under the TVPA and allow victims of trafficking to become legal temporary residents of the United States. Once a T visa is obtained, a victim may remain in the U.S. for up to three years. At the end of this time period the victim may be eligible for legal permanent residence status.

Certified adult victims are eligible to receive federally funded services and benefits similar to refugees. Some of the services that victims of trafficking are eligible for through federally funded programs, such as the Per-Capita Victim Services Contract include housing or shelter assistance, food assistance, income assistance, employment assistance, English language training, health care assistance, and mental health services.

Per-Capita Victim Services Contract
The Per-Capita Victim Services contract is designed to centralize services while maintaining a high level of care for victims of human trafficking through anytime, anywhere case management. Working in concert with HHS ongoing Rescue & Restore public awareness campaign, subcontractors are reimbursed for the services actually provided to each human trafficking victim. The contract also streamlines support services in order to help victims gain timely access to shelter, job training, and health care.

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Prior to becoming certified, a period referred to as pre-certification, victims pursuing certification and cooperating with law enforcement can receive limited, often emergency services, which parallel most certification services as a result of funding available from HHS and other federal agencies. Pre-certification services include housing, food/clothing, advocacy, legal assistance, medical/dental care, language services (e.g., interpreters/translators), mental health counseling, education, and job training.

In addition, service providers report seeking other assistance for victims who may decide not to cooperate with law enforcement out of fear of retaliation from the traffickers, or for other reasons. The strategies to assist these victims may include seeking asylum for the victim or filing for a U-Visa(3) and accessing services under the Violence Against Women Act, or for some agencies, tapping into non-federal or unrestricted funding streams to provide ad hoc services (for example, from state or local government programs, foundation-funded programs, etc.).

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