Thursday, March 25, 2010

DOL to start certifying U Visa applications

From the Department of Labor:

US Labor Department to exercise authority to certify applications for U visas.

Action will help victims who aid law enforcement

WASHINGTON — Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis . . . announced [on March 15th, 2010] that the U.S. Department of Labor will begin exercising its authority to certify applications for U Nonimmigrant Status Visas. U visas — as they are known — are designed to help victims of qualifying criminal activities who have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse and are willing to assist law enforcement or other government officials in the investigation or prosecution of those crimes.

"Regardless of immigration status, no one should have to suffer criminal abuse silently. U visas give some measure of security to immigrant victims who are desperate to escape an abusive situation and are willing to cooperate with law enforcement," said Secretary Solis. "I have instructed Labor Department investigators to identify potential U visa applicants as they conduct workplace investigations. This action will help local law enforcement rescue vulnerable immigrants from suffering and help put criminals behind bars."

Individuals who receive U visas may remain in the United States for up to four years and may eventually apply for permanent residency. The U visa was created by the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act of 2000. Qualifying criminal activities involve violations of certain federal, state or local criminal laws, including: abduction, abusive sexual contact, blackmail, domestic violence, extortion, false imprisonment, female genital mutilation, felonious assault, hostage-taking, incest, involuntary servitude, kidnapping, manslaughter, murder, obstruction of justice, peonage, perjury, prostitution, rape, sexual assault, sexual exploitation, slave trade, torture, trafficking, witness tampering, unlawful criminal restraint and other related crimes.

Labor Department authority to certify U visas will be delegated to its Wage and Hour Division, which will identify potential applicants in appropriate circumstances during the course of workplace investigations. Among other U visa application requirements, a federal law enforcement agency or official must certify that the U visa petitioner has been helpful, is being helpful or is likely to be helpful in the investigation or prosecution of the criminal activity.

To view a fact sheet and more information about the certification of U visas, click here.

Read this news release en EspaƱol.

While the U Visa is not strictly for trafficking survivors, this is potentially big news for service providers, particularly legal service providers. The Department of Labor is involved in many investigations and task forces around the U.S., and the Wage & Hour Division's access to farms and workplaces make their inspectors particularly important eyes and ears for detecting trafficking. For those of you who are not familiar with the recent history of DOL inspectors, the number of inspectors plummeted and remained low during the last two decades. Just this year, the GAO released a report detailing their findings on the inadequacy of the Wage & Hour Division's Complaint Intake and Investigation Process, which the GAO felt left many low-wage workers unprotected. In addition to this new certification ability, the Obama administration earmarked funding to improve the Wage & Hour Division earlier this year.

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