Trump’s Department of Labor changed its policies in ways that reduce and slow visa certifications for noncitizen victims of and witnesses to serious crimes and discourage victims from cooperating with law enforcement. DOL’s changes to its processes for certifying visa applications for vulnerable workers is part of the Trump administration’s pattern of denying noncitizen victims of human trafficking and other serious crimes a path to remain in the United States lawfully.
DOL’s new policy discourages victims from cooperating with law enforcement. Two kinds of visas, U and T nonimmigrant visas, provide a lifeline for noncitizen victims of serious crimes—including human trafficking, labor exploitation and other workplace offenses—who help law enforcement officials investigate and prosecute criminal offenders. DOL’s Wage and Hour Division has historically certified U and T visa applications, but in May 2019 DOL leadership issued a moratorium on visa certification.DOL subsequently revised the certification policies, and these changes limit DOL’s discretion in issuing certifications and will likely prolong the waiting period for visa applicants who face threats of retaliation from their employers for reporting workplace crimes. The policy changes also discourage workers from seeking DOL’s assistance entirely.
U and T visa experts and worker advocates have criticized DOL’s policy changes, explaining that it is “a departure from past procedures, and it creates additional barriers for fearful people, especially immigrant workers, who need to be incentivized to report a crime.” DOL’s actions have also come under Congressional scrutiny. On August 21, 2019, 21 Members of Congress wrote to DOL to express their “deep concern” that the Department’s change in policy “creates unnecessary hurdles for vulnerable immigrant workers seeking protections from human trafficking and other workplace abuses.”
We sued for documents after the Trump administration failed to provide answers to why DOL changed its policy. Democracy Forward filed a Freedom of Information Act request with DOL for guidance documents, instructions and other materials outlining its policy change on its U and T nonimmigrant visa certification authority. DOL has failed to respond or produce any responsive documents on time, in violation of federal law.
DOL’s policy change is part of the administration’s track record of denying support to nonimmigrant victims of crimes including trafficking. Earlier this year, the administration pulled $13.5 million of grant funding for housing and victim-centered supportive services for human trafficking days after it was announced that noncitizens could be served by the program. After Democracy Forward sued the administration for records explaining the abrupt grant cancellation and three months after the grant competition was cancelled suddenly and without explanation, the administration began the process to have DOJ award the funds.