The U.S. has expressed concerns over India’s reluctance to recognize a U.S. congressionally mandated visa for people the U.S. government considers victims of human trafficking. “We are deeply concerned by reports that some Indian nationals holding U.S. T-visas have experienced travel restrictions,” the State Department said in a response to questions from Reuters. “The current status of the policy is unclear, and we continue to ask the government of India at high levels in Washington and in New Delhi to fully repeal the policy.”
India has been confiscating the passports of human trafficking victims from the U.S., and is mandating that people carrying such passports name their exploiters, a cause of concern by U.S. officials. In 2013, the U.S. State Department gave T-visas to former Indian employees of Signal International. T-visas are given – rarely – to victims of human trafficking and allow the carrier to return to the home country to collect family and return to the U.S.
The Indian Embassy in Washington said in a statement in response to questions from Reuters: “Many individuals seek to misuse the trafficking visa route to emigrate to the U.S. Appropriate measures are taken in such cases.” India, however, is mindful of hardships “faced by genuinely affected persons” who receive T-visas and provides them with consular services, said the Embassy. “It is not a blanket ban,” said a source at India’s Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi. “We are not throwing the baby out with the bath water. The issue is: how can the U.S. be the sole arbiter of what constitutes human trafficking?”
According to reports, Signal workers from India had been recruited with false promises of a green card that would allow them to permanently remain in the U.S. Many workers – mostly welders and pipefitters from Kerala – paid more than $20,000 to recruiters in India to be able to work in the U.S., repairing the ravaged Gulf Coast which was decimated by Hurricane Katrina.
Once here, the workers were forced to live in cramped, squalid conditions that they were forced to pay for from their salaries. The workers also complained of substandard food and of being treated differently than Signal’s non-Indian employees.
The workers also received only 10-month guest-worker visas, instead of the promised green cards. The guest-worker visas meant that workers could not switch to a different employer, for fear of losing their immigration status. After the workers escaped from Signal’s facilities in Mississippi in 2008, several lawsuits were filed against Signal. The giant shipping magnate settled all suits earlier this year for $20 million, the largest amount ever awarded in a human trafficking case (http://bit.ly/1e0WyQl). Signal then declared bankruptcy, but also issued an apology to the workers, noting it had never meant to exploit them.
As per a Reuters report, between July 2014 and March 2015, at least 20 passports of Indians stamped with T-visas were confiscated by authorities at Indian airports. The news agency cited Jean Stockdale, a church worker who helps trafficking victims apply for the visas from her base in New Jersey.
The confiscating of passports has stopped. But Indian government documents reviewed by Reuters show that New Delhi has imposed restrictions over the past 16 months on Indian passports stamped with T-visas. T-visa holders face long delays in renewing passports at Indian consulates. They also must provide confidential information to the Indian government that they had previously submitted to the U.S. authorities, including details about who had trafficked them, according to the documents, legal advocates and interviews with T-visa holders.
Legal advocates have claimed that India’s failure to recognize all T-visas and its attempt to seek confidential information on alleged traffickers raises the risk that victims or their families will face reprisals. The topic was raised at a hearing on Capitol Hill by Rep. Chris Smith, a Republican from New Jersey who authored the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in 2000, which led to creation of the T-visas.