Prior to the passage of the TVPA in 2000, NGOs and other service providers with scarce resources struggled to piece together the comprehensive services needed by victims of human trafficking (Clawson, Small, Go, & Myles, 2004). Under the TVPA, the U.S. government designated HHS, along with the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) at the Department of Justice, as the primary Federal agency responsible for helping international victims of human trafficking become eligible for benefits and services, and allocated some resources for service delivery. One responsibility of HHS is to certify international victims of trafficking once they have been identified. This certification provides a victim of trafficking who is not a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident with the appropriate documentation allowing eligibility for a special visa, refugee benefits, and other refugee services that are not available to citizens and lawful permanent residents. U.S. citizens who find themselves victims of trafficking do not need to be certified in order to be eligible for mainstream benefits, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Medicaid, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as the Food Stamp Program). As U.S. citizens, they already are eligible for such services. However, anyone applying for mainstream benefits such as these must do so through the State in which they reside and must meet the eligibility requirements for each program (e.g., be single mothers with children, disabled, or meet other criteria, and have low income). Variations in State application processes, documentation requirements (e.g., birth certificate, drivers license), and the movement of victims once they are rescued may make it difficult for victims to access these services (Holcomb, Tumlin, Koralek, Capps, & Zuberi, 2003).
To receive certification, an international adult must first be determined to be a victim of a severe form of trafficking, as defined by the TVPA, and be willing to assist in the investigation of the traffickers. Following this determination by law enforcement, victims must complete a bona fide application for a T-visa or be awarded continued presence by a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement official (8 U.S.C. 1101 a15T 2000), which allows them to legally, albeit temporarily, reside in the United States. T-visas were established under the TVPA and allow international victims of trafficking to become temporary residents of the United States. Once a T-visa is obtained, a victim may remain in the United States for up to 3 years. At the end of this time period, the victim may be eligible for permanent resident status (Protection Project, 2002). Continued presence is a discretionary status provided by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, generally for a period of 1 or 2 years and can be renewed.
Certified adult victims are eligible to receive federally funded services and benefits similar to refugees. Some of the refugee-specific services that victims of trafficking are eligible to receive through HHS and NGOs are Refugee Cash and Medical Assistance, housing or shelter assistance, food assistance, income assistance, employment assistance, English language training, health care assistance, mental health services, and assistance for victims of torture. Other non-refugee specific benefit programs that certified victims may apply for are TANF, which provides a cash benefit and work opportunities for needy families with children younger than age 18, and Medicaid, which provides public health insurance for needy people with low income and limited resources (22.U.S.C. §7105(b)(1)).
Victims also are eligible for the Department of Labors One-Stop Career Center System, which offers free job search and employment centers that provide information and assistance for people who are looking for a job or who need education and training to obtain a job. It also provides support services such as transportation, child care, and housing. Other programs available to victims who meet standard income and eligibility requirements of each program include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Supplemental Security Income, State Childrens Health Insurance Program, Job Corps, public housing, and State-specific programs (U.S. Department of Justice, 2006).
The process for obtaining certification and thus access to services can be lengthy, since it often takes law enforcement agencies a while to formally determine that a person meets the statutory criteria to be considered a victim of a severe form of trafficking (Caliber Associates, 2007). During this waiting period, international victims, in most cases, are not eligible for either refugee-specific or mainstream services. For this reason, OVC began administering comprehensive service grants to communities to provide pre-certification services to international victims of human trafficking who were pursuing certification and cooperating with law enforcement. Additionally, HHS extended the parameters of its direct services (now per capita services) funding to cover the period of pre-certification. 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 with the HHS ongoing Rescue and Restore public awareness campaign, subcontractors are reimbursed for the services actually provided to each human trafficking victim. The contract also streamlines support services to help victims gain timely access to shelter, job training, and health care. Pre-certification services parallel most of the certification services, including housing, food/clothing, advocacy, legal assistance, medical/dental care, language services (e.g., interpreters/translators), mental health counseling, education, and job training (U.S. Department of Justice, 2006). Most of these services are provided in response to emergency or immediate needs, which can be several. Most international victims become certified before their long-term needs, such as permanent housing and employment, develop (Caliber Associates, 2007).
For some international victims, including those who decide not to cooperate with law enforcement, NGOs and service providers seek alternative remedies to meet their needs. This has included filing for U-visas and accessing services under the Violence Against Women Act, seeking asylum for the victim, and for some agencies, tapping non-federal or unrestricted funding streams to provide ad hoc services (Caliber Associates, 2007).