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The Department of Labor has granted the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) the ability to issue visas for immigrants who are the victims of workplace safety violations.
A Feb. 13 press release from the DOL explains that OSHA’s new authority — effective March 30, 2023 — will “strengthen its ability to protect all workers, including those whose immigration status or other social and cultural inequities discourage them from sharing information with investigators or reporting workplace safety and health issues.” The move provides the agency a critical tool in protecting migrant worker communities regardless of their immigration status or temporary employment authorization.
“Expanding OSHA’s U and T visa certification authority helps the agency better fulfill its mission to make U.S. workplaces as safe and healthy as possible,” Doug Parker, assistant secretary for OSHA, said in the press release.
“Workers in the U.S. need to feel empowered and able to trust OSHA and the U.S. Department of Labor enough to voice their concerns about workplace safety regardless of their immigration status and fears of retaliation.”
What are U and T Visas?
As part of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act in 2000, Congress established specific immigration benefits to migrants vulnerable to victimization and may hesitate in informing law enforcement of a crime due to fear of their removal from the U.S.
U Visas offer protections to noncitizen victims of qualifying crimes “in keeping with U.S. humanitarian interests.” Crime categories that qualify a victim for a U Visa include (but are not limited to) blackmail, domestic violence, fraud in foreign labor contracting, involuntary servitude and witness tampering.
While Congress has set an issue cap of 10,000 U Visas for each fiscal year, the number of approved U applications has slightly exceeded that amount every year since 2010 — with an approval rate of about 84%.
According to a 2021 report from USCIS, the agency had a median processing time of over 4 years from receipt of a U visa petition until placement on a waiting list. Once an applicant was on the waiting list, processing time from that until final adjudication was about 10 months.
T Visas provide temporary legal status to victims of human trafficking — which includes labor trafficking — allowing grantees to stay in the U.S. for up to 4 years if they comply with law enforcement in the detection, investigation or prosecution of traffickers. T nonimmigrants can become lawful permanent residents after obtaining a T Visa.
According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, there are 5,000 T Visas available for eligible victims of trafficking each fiscal year. However, federal data shows that barely a fifth of those Visas have been issued annually since 2008.
Workers interested in determining their eligibility for either Visa can find more information in filing a petition by visiting the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website. Click here for T Visa (for victims of human trafficking) info and here for U Visa (victims of other qualifying crimes).
Stefania Lugli is a civic engagement reporter for both The Journal and Planeta Venus, a Spanish-language digital and print media partner. She covers a range of topics to expand Latino access to news and information they need to engage in civic life in English and Spanish. Email her with tips or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find her on Twitter @steflugli.