Foreign National Victims

Foreign nationals have specific vulnerabilities tied to their immigration status, which traffickers exploit. Task force members will benefit from understanding the real fear of jail and/or deportation that prevents foreign-born victims from coming forward to admit their abuse. Foreign-born victims often lack documentation to prove their identity, fear they will be deported, fear threats to family members back home, do not understand that there are support services available to them, or are intentionally isolated geographically or through lack of language access. Foreign-born victims also may have experienced corrupt or violent law enforcement officers in their home countries, furthering their fears of seeking assistance. Additionally, eligibility for many public benefits is limited for foreign nationals. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) created a new system of services and support for foreign national trafficking victims (May 2016) [PDF 440KB] to address this gap.

Visit Faces of Human Trafficking to view related materials. View the Transcript.

Below are some key considerations when working with foreign-born victims:

  • Include an immigration attorney trained in human trafficking as part of your task force.
  • Ensure that appropriate interpretation services are available at all times, particularly at times of crisis. Although it might seem that a victim does not require an interpreter, most victims can express themselves more accurately in their language of origin when they are in crisis or speaking about traumatic events; however, be aware that interpreters are often from the same cultural community as the victim or trafficker, which may make the victim more fearful. It is important to review the ethics of interpreting with the victim and the interpreter at the beginning of each interpreting session, and to ensure that the victim feels comfortable with the interpreter provided. All task force members will benefit from training on how to work effectively with interpreters. See Section 5.3 on Victim Interview and Preparation for more information on working with interpreters.
  • Involve law enforcement victim assistance specialists early in the course of the investigation to review the rights of the victim and to request their assistance in obtaining immigration relief.
  • Be clear on the limitations of various organizations and ensure culturally competent services in assisting non-English-speaking victims or delivering culturally sensitive services. Assess whether a potential partner organization is unable or simply inexperienced in providing services to limited English speakers or undocumented victims. There may be an opportunity for training and collaboration. Understanding the victim's cultural norms will prepare task force members to better understand the victim's mindset, behaviors, approach to services, and approach to law enforcement, enabling the task force members to develop rapport with victims and more effectively provide services. For example, many service providers encounter foreign-born survivors who may be resistant to individual counseling, but are much more open and invested in group support sessions. Consider recruiting community-based organizations with an expertise in working with particular immigrant populations that the task force identifies as high risk.
  • Task Force Example: One service provider created a Memorandum of Understanding with the public benefits agency, which allowed the provider to e-mail available documents prior to the victim attending the public benefits appointment. This allowed any impediments to be addressed prior to the victim's appointment and minimized re-victimization.

    Be aware that not all services are available to undocumented individuals. Undocumented victims are not immediately able to access some public benefits or to work. Be transparent about these time lags and collaborate with victims to work toward long-term goals while they await this documentation. Many English as Second Language, general literacy, employment training, and educational training programs are not dependent on status and are free of charge. Undocumented victims who receive an HHS letter of eligibility or certification are eligible for federally funded, means-tested public benefits; however, public benefit workers may be unfamiliar with these documents and the associated benefits. Federal welfare and immigration reform laws passed in 1996 severely restricted access to federally funded public benefits for foreign nationals, including lawful resident immigrants. The TVPA, therefore, included a mechanism for trafficking victims to become eligible for these benefits and specialized services for refugees, asylees, and trafficking victims. The Office for Refugee Resettlement (ORR), part of the Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families, is responsible for issuing Certification Letters to adults and Letters of Eligibility to minors who are victims of human trafficking. Minors can request a Letter of Eligibility from ORR with a showing that they are a victim of human trafficking. Victims over 18 must also show they are willing to cooperate with reasonable requests from law enforcement (or that they are unable to do so because of physical or psychological trauma) and were issued Continued Presence or filed a bona fide T visa application. It is helpful to include a Department of Social Services representative on local task forces to address any challenges to accessing public benefits.
  • Become familiar with reunification and repatriation assistance. Foreign-born victims may need assistance reuniting with family members who are located in foreign countries through the T visa process or in repatriating to their home country. Victim service providers should be familiar with these processes and benefits afforded to derivative family members upon arrival. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has resources available to help secure documents for family members overseas and pay the cost of travel for family members to the United States.

For additional information and tools, visit the Resource page for Section 4.5 Victim Populations.