Dept of Labor Quietly Scaled Back Authority to Certify Visas for Noncitizen Victims of Human Trafficking, Other Serious Crimes
New Policy Discourages Victims from Cooperating With Law Enforcement
Washington, D.C. — Today, Democracy Forward sued the Trump administration for refusing to release records detailing the Department of Labor’s policy changes that reduce and slow visa certifications for 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.
“Yet again, the Trump administration has turned its back on human trafficking victims and this time is unlawfully witholding documents explaining why,” said Democracy Forward Press Secretary Charisma Troiano. “The public deserves to know why the administration has undertaken a policy that makes us all less safe by making it harder for criminal law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute crimes.”
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 may also discourage workers from seeking DOL’s assistance entirely.
U and T visa experts and worker advocates have criticized DOL’s policy changes as “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.”
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 in violation of federal law.
DOL’s policy change is part of the administration’s track record of denying support to noncitizen 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, the administration began the process to have DOJ award the funds.
The suit against the Department of Labor was filed on December 19, 2019 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.