Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Commissioner and Chair of the New York City Commission on Human Rights Carmelyn P. Malalis announced on February 9, 2016 that the Commission would begin accepting requests for and issue U and T visa certifications. 

U and T Visas and the Certification Requirement

The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act in part created U and T visas.  The law’s purpose is to encourage crime victims to come forward without being concerned about their immigration status, assist in the investigation and prosecution of crimes, and strengthen the ability of law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute cases.

The U visa is for victims of abduction, abusive sexual contact, blackmail, domestic violence, extortion, false imprisonment, felonious assault, fraud in foreign labor contracting, hostage, involuntary servitude, manslaughter, murder, peonage, prostitution, rape, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, slave trade, trafficking of people and other crimes.  The T visa is set aside specifically for those who are or have been victims of human trafficking.

The U and T visas are temporary statuses that, if approved, are valid for four years.  After three years in such status, the victim may apply for permanent residency if, among other requirements, he or she did not refuse to assist in the investigation or prosecution of such crimes.

U visa applicants must secure a U visa certification by a governmental office or agency as part of the application process.  Agency certification is not required of T visas, but it is helpful.  In issuing certifications, the agency confirms that a qualifying crime has occurred and that the victim was helpful, is being helpful, or is likely to be helpful in the investigation or prosecution.

Enter the Commission on Human Rights

The Commission investigates and prosecutes various unlawful activities under the New York City Human Rights Law, including discrimination and harassment in employment.  In connection with its investigations of such activities, the Commission may uncover criminal activity that could qualify a victims for a U or T visa.  Based on that, Commissioner and Chair Carmelyn P. Malalis has stated, “as a civil law enforcement agency with investigatory authority, the Commission is well-situated to identify crimes that may qualify immigrants for U and T visa certification, including sexual assault in the workplace, tenant harassment, forced labor, extortion and human trafficking. Everyone in New York City is protected under the New York City Human Rights Law, regardless of their immigration status.  Issuing certification will bring victims of abuse one step closer to the justice they deserve.”

The only other agencies in New York City that provide such certifications are the NYPD, borough District Attorney’s Offices, NYC Law Department and Administration for Children’s Services.  The Commission will undergo rule-making to codify its certification process and will give stakeholders and advocates the opportunity to weigh in on the proposed protocol.

By issuing U or T visa certifications, the Commission will encourage undocumented immigrants to report such activity while protecting those who speak up about crimes that may also constitute sexual harassment, discrimination, etc.