The second most commonly cited necessity is the need to work again.
Like Joseph, victims generally escape without money, credit, references, or legal papers. But they do have a mountain of debt. And if they are unauthorized, they are unable to legally work until they are granted a short-term “continued presence.” In the long run they need to get T visas to stay in the country and work.
When these statuses are granted, survivors are given special permission to work in the United States. Continued presence is a legal status designed to help unauthorized immigrant survivors make ends meet while T visa decisions are determined. In addition to allowing survivors to work legally, T visas enable trafficking survivors to get Social Security cards, driver’s licenses, and certain forms of assistance. The visas last four years, and after the third year survivors can apply for permanent residency.
While many victims eventually get T visas, continued presence is rarely granted by law enforcement, making the months-, sometimes years-long wait for a T visa painful, if not impossible.
A big barrier to obtaining continued presence is tied to victim cooperation in law enforcement investigations. Without cooperation, officials are often reluctant to sign off on continued presence applications. Law enforcement agencies may also waver in their willingness to support continued presence if they don’t recognize the case as labor trafficking, or if they feel it is not winnable.
While all victims in the study cooperated with law enforcement, many others are reluctant to do so for fear of retribution or deportation.
Service providers interviewed say that law enforcement rarely approve continued presence requests because they lack familiarity with labor trafficking, sympathy for its victims, trust in service providers’ motives, and institutional support on occasions when individual officials might be willing to approve them.
“A willingness to support [continued presence] obviously is an issue,” said an attorney who has tried labor trafficking cases in the Southwest. “It’s still pretty rare. Overall there is a sense they’re going to see somebody as a perpetrator before they are going to see them as a potential victim.”
For some victims, the burden of forgoing work while waiting for a decision is too much to bear. They drift back underground to take their chances working under the table, where they are again vulnerable and without papers.