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United States of America (Tier 1)

The Government of the United States fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The government continued to demonstrate serious and sustained efforts during the reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore the United States remained on Tier 1. These efforts included significantly increasing the number of victims served by federal grantees; issuing new policies and guidance to improve adjudication of trafficking-specific immigration options; passing laws that prohibit federal law enforcement officers from engaging in a sexual act or contact with anyone in their custody and raising the penalty for doing so for law enforcement officers at any level of government; and increasing enforcement of the prohibition of imports made wholly or in part by forced labor. The government made progress in implementing its national action plan to combat trafficking, and several government agencies issued and began to implement their own internal action plans and strategies. Although the government meets the minimum standards, in some cases survivors continued to be arrested for the unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit, and some victim-witnesses did not receive needed protections during their case. There was a continued lack of progress to comprehensively address labor trafficking in the United States, including in efforts to identify victims, provide them specialized services, and hold labor traffickers, including contractors and recruiters, accountable. The government continued not to mandate human trafficking screening for all foreign national adults in immigration detention or custody and did not screen for trafficking indicators among the people it removed. Advocates continued to report concerns that trafficking survivors were held in immigration detention and that the government’s policy to return to Mexico certain individuals from the Western Hemisphere, while their U.S. removal proceedings were pending, exacerbated their vulnerability to human trafficking.

  • Increase efforts to comprehensively address labor trafficking in the United States, including identification of and provision of services to labor trafficking victims.
  • Screen all individuals in immigration detention or custody for human trafficking indicators.
  • Assess government systems and programs to ensure they advance equity for and decrease the vulnerability of marginalized communities to human trafficking.
  • Improve access to emergency and long-term housing for all victims.
  • Increase access to and accessibility of specialized services for all victims.
  • Mitigate vulnerabilities in employment-based or other nonimmigrant U.S. visa programs, including by holding accountable noncompliant employers and labor contractors, as well as their agents, and improve workers’ access to timely and comprehensive job information.
  • Increase the number of requests by federal law enforcement officials for Continued Presence.
  • Shorten processing times for trafficking-related immigration benefits and remove barriers for victims to obtain those benefits.
  • Encourage state, local, and tribal authorities to implement policies not to prosecute victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit and to adopt laws to prohibit law enforcement officials from engaging in sexual acts with victims.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of current federal law enforcement strategies in identifying and supporting victims and adjust strategies as necessary.
  • Train investigators, prosecutors, and judges to increase the number of forfeiture orders and mandatory restitution orders for trafficking victims and use all available authorities to ensure restitution is paid.
  • Increase survivor engagement, including by establishing accessible mechanisms for receiving and providing compensation for survivor input when forming policies, programs, outreach materials, and trainings.
  • Strengthen efforts to address demand for all forms of human trafficking.

As described in the Methodology section of this report, these recommendations were drawn from input solicited from multiple anti-trafficking stakeholders, such as advocates (which includes NGOs and subject matter experts who have survived human trafficking), academia, and government agencies, on how the United States could better meet the minimum standards set forth in the TVPA.

The government maintained prosecution efforts. The TVPA, as amended and codified at Title 18 U.S. Code sections 1581, et seq., criminalizes sex and labor trafficking. U.S. law confers extraterritorial jurisdiction for these human trafficking offenses, as long as the defendant (whether individual or entity) is a U.S. national, U.S. lawful permanent resident, or is present in the United States, regardless of the defendant’s nationality. The penalties prescribed under these provisions, which can include up to life imprisonment, are sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with the penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. U.S. law prohibits conspiracy and the attempt to violate these provisions, obstruction of the statutes’ enforcement, and benefiting from such acts. Additionally, a criminal statute prohibits the use of fraud to recruit, solicit, or hire workers abroad to come to the United States to work, or to recruit workers to work on a U.S. government contract performed outside the United States, on U.S. property, or on military installations outside the United States. The U.S. Congress passed several laws that address human trafficking and related crimes, including a provision that requires the federal government to create a process through which survivors with certain documentation can request to remove information about adverse credit activity from their credit report if the information is linked to their trafficking experience; a provision that prohibits federal law enforcement officers from engaging in a sexual act or contact with anyone, including potential victims of human trafficking, in their custody, under arrest, in detention, or under their supervision, regardless of consent; and another provision that raises the penalty from a misdemeanor to a felony whenever anyone acting under color of law (at any level of government) engages in nonconsensual sexual acts or contact.

The Department of Justice (DOJ), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and Department of State (State) are the primary investigating agencies for federal human trafficking and other related offenses, with the Department of Defense (DoD) enforcing the U.S. military code to prosecute sex trafficking-related offenses. DOJ prosecutes federal human trafficking cases. DOJ, DHS, and State support victims by engaging law enforcement victim assistance specialists during trafficking investigations and prosecutions, including by connecting identified victims to victim service providers. DOJ increased the number of trial attorneys in its specialized national human trafficking prosecution unit that works with federal prosecutors throughout the United States. In Fiscal Year (FY) 2021, DHS forensic interview specialists conducted 542 trafficking-focused interviews using a trauma-informed approach, and DHS victim assistance specialists assisted 728 victims of human trafficking. DOJ forensic interview specialists conducted 202 human trafficking forensic interviews of victims, and DOJ’s 172 victim specialists provided services to human trafficking victims in 708 cases. The Department of the Interior (DOI) added four victim specialist positions, bringing the total number of victim specialists to 29, to provide services to victims in DOI criminal cases, including human trafficking cases, and established a hotline that its law enforcement officers can use to reach the victim specialists. DHS issued internal guidance directing DHS officials to no longer conduct mass worksite enforcement operations aimed at identifying unauthorized workers and instead shift enforcement resources to investigate employers allegedly engaged in forced labor and other illegal acts.

DOJ, in coordination with DHS and the Department of Labor (DOL), continued to support complex human trafficking investigations and prosecutions initiated and developed in Phase II of the Anti-Trafficking Coordination Team (ACTeam) Initiative. In FY 2021, DOJ provided $22.3 million to support the work of 15 Enhanced Collaborative Model (ECM) anti-trafficking task forces, which included awards to 15 state and local law enforcement agencies and 15 victim service providers, compared with more than $17.7 million for 14 ECM task forces in FY 2020 (13 state and local law enforcement agencies and 14 victim service providers). In addition, DOJ provided $2.4 million to develop strategies and models to support jurisdictions’ human trafficking law enforcement and prosecution efforts and to improve stakeholders’ ability to implement victim-centered and trauma-informed investigations and prosecutions. The Department of the Treasury (Treasury) identified hundreds of shell companies registered in the United States that were part of supply chains where forced labor was found, and it shared that information with law enforcement. In June 2021, Treasury issued the first government-wide priorities for anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism, which identified human trafficking as an anti-money laundering priority. Several federal agencies participated in other human trafficking task forces nationwide consisting of federal, state, and local law enforcement, as well as victim service providers.

DOJ and DHS continued to advance bilateral investigations and prosecutions of transnational trafficking enterprises operating across the U.S.-Mexico border by facilitating exchanges of leads, intelligence, and expertise between U.S. and Mexican anti-trafficking authorities and providing support to Mexican state-level authorities and human trafficking task forces. DOJ, in collaboration with Treasury, increased engagement with Mexican anti-money laundering authorities to enhance capacity to identify and combat human trafficking and trace trafficking proceeds. DOJ assisted Mexican authorities with establishing an anti-trafficking task force that handled complex investigations.

Advocates maintained that the use of traditional vice investigative strategies, like undercover sting operations, by law enforcement and federally funded task forces, has not been effective in identifying trafficking cases or leading to prosecutions for human trafficking offenses. According to these advocates, such operations have resulted in the re-traumatization of trafficking victims, including through the arrest of victims who did not self-identify to law enforcement as such, rough physical treatment, and the threat of criminal charges to compel cooperation. Advocates reported federally funded task forces did not sufficiently engage with local survivor leaders and service providers to improve victim services and better understand the communities and populations they served. One study found, through interviews with law enforcement officers, that officers sometimes chose not to work with service providers, especially if they believed those providers would inform survivors of their right not to speak with law enforcement. A federally funded study of 10 task forces found when law enforcement and service providers did collaborate, it improved task force efficacy. Advocates called on federal, state, and local governments to redirect funding from law enforcement to community-led organizations to identify human trafficking situations in ways that would inflict less harm, in particular on Black and Brown communities, and better assist victims. Advocates also called for federal prosecutors and law enforcement officers to adopt protocols to inform trafficking victims of their legal rights at the start of and throughout their investigations.

Advocates reported instances of trafficking victims who, as a result of encounters with various law enforcement agencies, were arrested, threatened with charges if they did not cooperate in a case against their trafficker, prosecuted, convicted, and—in cases where they were convicted of a certain criminal offense—required to register as a sex offender for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit. Survivors in some cases received a criminal penalty that included fees or fines, which required many of them to incur large financial hardship to pay. Although U.S. Supreme Court caselaw obligates states to return fees, court costs, and restitution assessed against defendants whose convictions were vacated and to not impose anything more than minimal procedures for seeking such refunds, one NGO noted many states did not inform trafficking survivors of these obligations, resulting in survivors potentially not receiving refunds in such a manner due to lack of awareness. The federally funded study found half of the 10 ECM task forces included in the study indicated they arrested survivors as part of the investigative strategy. Another study that included interviews with law enforcement officials, survivors, and anti-trafficking advocates found law enforcement disproportionately arrested victims who were Black women and girls during sting operations, and it noted bias inhibited victim identification among communities of color. One NGO noted law enforcement disproportionately dismissed requests for help from survivors who were Black, Indigenous, or people of color, or arrested them when they came forward. Advocates noted cases where law enforcement used access to victim services as a tool to secure victims’ cooperation and deprioritized the protection of victim-witnesses as the case progressed. Some diversion courts made survivors choose between enrollment in services or incarceration. Advocates reported the arrest and poor treatment of victims during the criminal justice process increased those victims’ distrust of law enforcement and gave credibility to traffickers’ warnings to not seek help. One NGO recommended the government adopt standardized trafficking screening for the judicial and criminal justice system to reduce the penalization of victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit.

The federal government reports its law enforcement data by fiscal year, which may include joint federal and state or local actions but does not include separate state or local law enforcement data. In FY 2021, DHS opened 1,111 investigations related to human trafficking, an increase from 947 in FY 2020. Six of those investigations were of individuals and entities that may be benefiting from goods produced using forced labor overseas. DOJ formally opened 603 human trafficking investigations in FY 2021, a decrease from 663 in FY 2020. Of DOJ’s FY 2021 investigations, 577 involved predominantly sex trafficking and 26 involved predominantly labor trafficking, compared with 619 and 41, respectively, and three involving both sex and labor trafficking in FY 2020. State reported investigating 111 human trafficking-related cases worldwide during FY 2021, an increase from 95 in FY 2020. In FY 2021, DoD reported investigating 108 human trafficking-related cases involving DoD military, civilian, and contractor personnel, a significant decrease from 160 in FY 2020, and 53 of those cases were referred for criminal investigation. Of the 108 human trafficking-related cases, 31 were related to forced labor (compared with 112 in FY 2020), most of which DoD investigated through an administrative process that referred cases to criminal investigators if appropriate. The 31 forced labor investigations are detailed in the Prevention section below.

DOJ initiated a total of 228 federal human trafficking prosecutions in FY 2021, an increase from 210 in FY 2020 and 220 in FY 2019, but a decrease from 230 in FY 2018 and 282 in FY 2017. DOJ charged 347 defendants in FY 2021, an increase from 337 in FY 2020 and 343 in FY 2019, but a decrease from 386 in FY 2018 and 553 in FY 2017. Of these FY 2021 prosecutions, 221 involved predominantly sex trafficking and seven involved predominantly labor trafficking, compared with 195 and 15 in FY 2020; 208 and 12 in FY 2019; 213 and 17 in FY 2018; and 266 and 16 in FY 2017, respectively.

During FY 2021, DOJ secured the convictions of 203 traffickers, a decrease from 309 in FY 2020, 475 in FY 2019, and 526 in FY 2018. Of these, 190 involved predominantly sex trafficking and 13 involved predominantly labor trafficking, compared with 297 and 12 in FY 2020; 454 and 21 in FY 2019; and 501 and 25 in FY 2018, respectively.

These prosecutions and convictions included cases brought under trafficking-specific criminal statutes and non-trafficking criminal statutes, but they did not include child sex trafficking cases brought under non-trafficking statutes. Among the 177 traffickers sentenced to prison in cases brought under trafficking-specific criminal statutes, which excludes trafficking cases brought under non-trafficking statutes, judges imposed terms ranging from six months to life imprisonment, with more than 84 percent of defendants receiving prison sentences of five or more years. Three traffickers received a probation-only sentence, and eight received a suspended sentence. This sentencing data came from federal courts, which tracked cases only by trafficking-specific criminal statutes, did not indicate all applicable charges when a defendant was charged with more than five offenses, and did not capture trafficking cases resolved by pleas to non-trafficking charges.

A DHS inspector general report found DHS did not accurately track dissemination and receipt of tips on human trafficking through its tip line, take follow-up actions on the tips, or maintain accurate data on investigative cases and victims. In response, DHS formalized its intake process and tracking policy for human trafficking tips that come through its tip line to require each DHS field office to track tips received and report any investigative or enforcement outcome resulting from a tip.

Advocates and racial justice experts have noted that increases in the number of investigations, prosecutions, and convictions do not on their own indicate progress in anti-trafficking efforts, in securing equitable outcomes for members of racial and ethnic minorities, or in implementing victim-centered, trauma-informed approaches. Advocates recommended that assessing law enforcement anti-trafficking efforts must center on the treatment of survivors throughout the criminal justice process, such as how many survivors law enforcement arrested and how many survivors law enforcement connected to services. Advocates called for the government to disaggregate law enforcement data by demographic groups to better understand its approaches to different communities.

Federal human trafficking cases continued to involve predominantly sex trafficking despite service providers assisting significant numbers of labor trafficking victims. Advocates noted in particular the low number of federal labor trafficking cases involving child labor trafficking victims, private employer or corporate defendants, and forced criminality.

Advocates continued to call for federal prosecutors to seek, and for courts to award, mandatory restitution for both sex and labor trafficking cases, citing concerns about both the low number of cases in which it was ordered and the low rate of payment of restitution to trafficking victims consistent with restitution orders. One NGO noted that about 34 percent of defendants convicted of a crime that triggered mandatory restitution were ordered to pay restitution in 2021, compared with approximately 47 percent in 2020. Advocates again called for increased and improved training of investigators, prosecutors, and judges on mandatory restitution and urged the government to use its available authorities, such as freezing or seizing assets and seeking forfeiture, to ensure compliance with restitution orders. Advocates again noted that, while not required by law, many victims lacked independent legal counsel to assist them in obtaining restitution, and one advocate reported survivors were pressured into accepting lesser amounts.

State laws form the basis of most criminal actions in the United States. All U.S. states and territories have anti-trafficking criminal statutes. The federal government expanded its collection of state, local, and tribal data on human trafficking investigations through the Uniform Crime Reporting Program and began to migrate it to a more dynamic platform. It made data from 2020, collected from participating jurisdictions, publicly available. All 50 U.S. states had some participating jurisdictions in 2020, compared with 48 states the previous year, although the numbers of participating jurisdictions within states varied. In 2020, participating jurisdictions reported 2,023 human trafficking offenses. There is no formal mechanism for the federal government to track prosecutions at the state, local, and tribal levels.

An NGO-funded project reported 48 states have laws allowing survivors to seek a court order vacating, expunging, or sealing criminal convictions entered against them that resulted from unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit, compared with 46 states in the previous reporting period. In three of these states, however, such relief is only available to child trafficking victims. One advocate reported some state vacatur laws only pertained to sex-related crimes, excluding other acts traffickers may have compelled survivors to commit like drug trafficking or financial crimes. Even with such laws, the cost of applying for criminal record relief, including processing fees, legal representation, and travel to hearings, often created financial hardship and inhibited survivors’ ability to obtain such relief. These costs from pursuing criminal record relief compounded the significant financial burden survivors may have already faced from contesting the charges and convictions. NGOs continued to call for the adoption of federal vacatur legislation.

According to one NGO report, 27 states and the District of Columbia had laws that prohibited the prosecution of child trafficking victims for commercial sex, eight of which also prohibited arresting, detaining, and charging them. That same report noted only 17 states had laws that prohibited the prosecution of child sex trafficking victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit and only 32 states formally recognized all child sex trafficking victims as such, whether or not there was third-party control, under their criminal codes. That NGO called for states to reduce reliance on live, in-court testimony from child sex trafficking survivors in criminal cases by offering alternative means of providing testimony.

There were reports of government personnel complicit in human trafficking crimes, and the government took action to increase its ability to hold such personnel accountable in some cases. There were also reported instances of law enforcement officers sexually abusing or engaging in sexual acts with known or suspected victims of sex trafficking in the course of conducting criminal investigations. Federal investigations into incidents involving federal law enforcement officers remained ongoing, and in the second half of 2021, DOJ issued a policy notice prohibiting undercover personnel from engaging in sexual acts to obtain intelligence or evidence from investigative subjects or other persons of interest. One study noted even where law enforcement officers did not engage in sex acts with victims, some of those officers thought they were allowed to do so. Advocates called for state legislation prohibiting engagement in sexual conduct with victims during law enforcement actions, which only one state in the country had in place.

Domestically, the U.S. government continued to build the capacity of law enforcement, judges, military personnel, and labor inspectors, among others, to respond more effectively to human trafficking cases through trainings and workshops. DOJ partnered with an NGO to develop training materials for law enforcement and prosecutors on labor trafficking. State began mandating biennial human trafficking training for its law enforcement and security personnel. Internationally, through case-based mentoring and expert legal advice, the U.S. government worked with foreign counterparts to strengthen their capabilities to investigate and prosecute human trafficking.

Advocates again called for increased training—including in consultation with survivor leaders—across all criminal justice system sectors, including law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges, to correct misconceptions about what constitutes a human trafficking crime and to identify forced criminality. Advocates highlighted, in particular, the need to increase training for law enforcement and judges on victim identification and trauma-informed approaches to interacting with victims, noting failures to inform survivors of their rights throughout the criminal justice process, to update survivors on the status of their cases, and to allow victim-witnesses to access legally required and adequate protections during the investigation and prosecution.

The government increased overall protection efforts. The government significantly increased the number of victims served. It also adjudicated more Continued Presence applications, granted more Certification Letters, and granted significantly more Eligibility Letters. The government implemented policies intended to improve access to immigration benefits, including Continued Presence and T and U nonimmigrant status, for foreign national trafficking victims. However, the number of victims granted T nonimmigrant status significantly decreased. Although the median processing time for T nonimmigrant status slightly decreased, victims still faced long periods of time without support services, legal status, and employment authorization. Advocates reported the government made efforts to improve access to trafficking-specific immigration options but again expressed concerns about previous immigration policies and ongoing policies related to immigration enforcement at the border. Advocates noted that trafficking survivors continued to fear reporting their cases to government officials, pursuing immigration options, or seeking services and that trafficking survivors were held in immigration detention facilities. The government did not provide sufficient services for labor trafficking survivors, boys and men, LGBTQI+ persons, survivors struggling with addiction, persons with limited English proficiency, children aging out of services, and those who did not wish to participate in the criminal justice process.

The government continued to identify victims of trafficking and fund trafficking-specific services. Certain federal agencies used formal procedures to identify victims and refer them to service providers. DHS and DOJ were required by law to establish law enforcement screening protocols to identify human trafficking victims and started efforts to do so. The government funded several federal tip lines, including an NGO-operated national hotline and referral service, as well as victim assistance organizations that provided trafficking-specific services. Federally funded trafficking-specific services, primarily through DOJ and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), served foreign national and domestic trafficking victims and included case management, mental health and medical care, substance use treatment, housing and shelter, translation and interpretation services, legal services, employment training and job placement services, transportation assistance, and financial assistance. DOJ and HHS record-keeping systems did not allow for cross-referencing to determine which victims were served by grantees of both agencies.

During FY 2021, DOJ provided about $60 million for 85 awards to support human trafficking victim assistance programs across the United States, compared with $74.6 million for 131 awards in FY 2020. Specific programs included $15 million for housing assistance awards, $22 million for 36 victim service awards addressing a broad range of case management and specialized service needs, $13 million to provide specialized services for children, $2 million to enhance juvenile and family court responses to human trafficking, and $8 million for training and technical assistance to improve identification of and assistance to trafficking victims nationwide. As DOJ transitioned performance management systems for grantees during the reporting period, comprehensive data from grantees on the total number of clients served in FY 2021 were unavailable. A subset of DOJ anti-trafficking grantees reported 10,070 open trafficking client cases from July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021, compared with 9,854 open client cases the previous year. Of these cases, 5,931 were new clients, compared with 5,968 new clients reported the previous year. DOJ’s grantees reported 61 percent of clients served were U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents, 34 percent were foreign nationals, and the status of 5 percent was unknown. Grantees reported 61 percent of clients served were victims of sex trafficking, 23 percent were victims of labor trafficking, 7 percent were identified as victims of both sex and labor trafficking, and the form of trafficking for 9 percent was unknown.

HHS runs two victim assistance programs—one for foreign national victims and the other for domestic victims of human trafficking. In FY 2021, HHS awarded $2 million in new funding and made available funding from previous fiscal years that was unspent, totaling $14 million, for the provision of case management services to foreign national victims to one NGO that contracted with a nationwide network of NGO sub-recipients, compared with $5.4 million in FY 2020 and $10.9 million in FY 2019. Through this program, HHS served 3,461 individuals, including 2,047 victims of trafficking and 1,414 qualified family members in 40 states, the District of Columbia, and one U.S. territory, a significant increase from 2,352 individuals served the previous fiscal year. Of the individuals served, 68 percent were victims of labor trafficking, 20 percent were victims of sex trafficking, 9 percent were identified as victims of both sex and labor trafficking, and the form of trafficking for 3 percent was unknown. For the provision of case management services to domestic victims of human trafficking, HHS awarded $5.3 million in FY 2021, compared with $5.4 million in FY 2020 and $2.9 million in FY 2019, to 18 grantees that served 829 victims of trafficking in 17 states through collaborative partnerships with 89 service providers, a decrease from 884 individuals served the previous year. HHS’s grantees in its victim assistance program for domestic victims of human trafficking reported 47 percent of individuals served were victims of sex trafficking, 4 percent were victims of labor trafficking, 4 percent were identified as victims of both sex and labor trafficking, and the form of trafficking for 45 percent was unknown.

Advocates noted funding for victim services remained inadequate to cover the high cost of providing services and the increased demand for services due to the pandemic. Some federally funded services and organizations’ program models continued to focus on time-limited and immediate crisis intervention rather than long-term, holistic care. Emergency, transitional, and long-term housing options for trafficking survivors were limited, as demand and costs increased during the pandemic, exacerbating preexisting housing constraints. Advocates also called for increased access to mental health services, childcare, and economic empowerment opportunities for survivors. Advocates called for Congress to remove or suspend the legislative requirement for some federal programs that grantees match 25 percent of the total award. Advocates stated the pandemic limited grantees’ fundraising capabilities and volunteer workforces, whose time can be included as part of the match, making it difficult to meet this matching requirement. In addition, advocates called for the government to establish feedback loops in programming to gather and act on survivor input in real time and to establish minimum standards of care for human trafficking survivors that all federal victim services grantees would be required to meet to increase oversight of grantees.

Federal resources or specialized services for labor trafficking survivors, boys and men, LGBTQI+ persons, survivors struggling with substance abuse issues, persons with limited English proficiency, and children aging out of services, as well as those who did not wish to participate in the criminal justice system, continued to be insufficient. Advocates called for the government to provide technical assistance to service providers to improve their ability to assess survivors for disabilities they had prior to their trafficking or that resulted from their trafficking and to ensure services are fully accessible to those with disabilities. Survivors with criminal records resulting from unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit were still often excluded from employment, housing, and higher education; were ineligible for government programs; and faced difficulties meeting needs essential to their safety and recovery. Of those survivors, some who were required to register as sex offenders by their state or local government as a result of a conviction for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit faced social or familial ostracization; restrictions on travel or relocation; additional limitations on accessing services, housing, and public amenities; and in some cases lost custody of their children because of their status as a sex offender. Advocates reported the government provided insufficient protections and support for victim-witnesses, including relocation and living expenses for those vulnerable to retaliation from traffickers. The denial of these protections increased victim-witnesses’ instability and vulnerability to re-trafficking.

As part of HHS’s assistance to foreign national victims, HHS provides Certification Letters to foreign national adult victims of severe forms of trafficking in persons, which enables them to apply for benefits and services to the same extent as refugees, after DHS grants Continued Presence or when a victim has a bona fide or approved application for T nonimmigrant status, as described further below. HHS also provides Eligibility or Interim Assistance Letters to foreign national children, which enables them to apply for benefits and services to the same extent as refugees, upon receipt of credible information the child is or may be a victim of a severe form of trafficking in persons under the TVPA. HHS issued 527 Certification Letters to foreign national adults in FY 2021, an increase from 508 in FY 2020 and 311 in FY 2019. Of the 527 foreign national adults certified in FY 2021, 14 percent were sex trafficking victims, 68 percent were labor trafficking victims, 16 percent were victims of both sex and labor trafficking, and 2 percent were victims of a severe form of trafficking in persons unknown to HHS. HHS issued 1,200 Eligibility Letters to foreign national children in FY 2021, a significant increase from 673 in FY 2020 and 892 in FY 2019. Of the 1,143 foreign national children certified in FY 2021, 25 percent were sex trafficking victims, 68 percent were labor trafficking victims, 6 percent were victims of both labor and sex trafficking, and 1 percent were victims of a severe form of trafficking in persons unknown to HHS. Foreign national children currently in the United States who are identified as survivors of trafficking and receive an Eligibility Letter are also eligible to participate in HHS’s Unaccompanied Refugee Minors Program. This program requires states to provide such child victims with the same assistance, care, and services available to children in foster care. In FY 2021, the program served 399 child trafficking victims, including 129 new enrollees, compared with 329 child trafficking victims that included 142 new enrollees in FY 2020.

DHS provides immigration options specifically for survivors of trafficking through Continued Presence, a temporary immigration designation, and T nonimmigrant status, another temporary immigration benefit (commonly referred to as the “T visa”). Both immigration options strengthen law enforcement’s ability to detect, investigate, or prosecute human trafficking by offering foreign national survivors temporary immigration relief. Another immigration benefit available to survivors of certain qualifying crimes, including human trafficking, is U nonimmigrant status (commonly referred to as the “U visa”). This status can be granted to survivors who are, have been, or are likely to be helpful in the detection, investigation, prosecution, conviction, or sentencing of the qualifying criminal activity and meet other specific eligibility requirements. DHS is unable to accurately track the number of approved petitions for U nonimmigrant status based on the specific underlying qualifying criminal activity, so it is unknown how many U visa petitions were approved specifically for trafficking victims.

To qualify for Continued Presence, law enforcement must identify an individual as a victim of human trafficking who may be a potential witness in the investigation or prosecution of the trafficker. DHS manages all requests from federal, state, and local law enforcement for Continued Presence, authorizing foreign nationals identified by law enforcement as trafficking victims who may be potential witnesses to lawfully remain and work in the United States during the investigation and prosecution of the crime for two years, renewable for up to two-year increments. In FY 2021, DHS granted 247 initial Continued Presence requests and 57 extensions, compared with 97 initial grants and 57 extensions in FY 2020. (The FY 2020 number of Continued Presence initial requests granted (97) represents a correction to the number cited last year (117).)

To qualify for T nonimmigrant status, an applicant must demonstrate that they (1) are a victim of a severe form of trafficking in persons; (2) are physically present in the United States, its territories and outlying possessions, or at a U.S. port of entry on account of trafficking; (3) have complied with reasonable requests from law enforcement, unless they are younger than the age of 18 or unable to cooperate due to trauma suffered; and (4) would suffer extreme hardship involving unusual and severe harm upon removal from the United States. T nonimmigrant applicants may also apply for certain family members to receive derivative T nonimmigrant status, including certain extended family members who face a present danger of retaliation because of the principal applicant’s escape from trafficking or cooperation with law enforcement. Individuals with T nonimmigrant status are authorized to work, and their derivative family members can apply for employment authorization. Both are eligible to receive certain benefits and services to the same extent as refugees. T nonimmigrant status is granted for a period of four years and may be extended under certain limited circumstances. After three years, or upon the completion of the investigation or prosecution, individuals with T nonimmigrant status may apply for lawful permanent resident status, if they meet certain requirements, and eventually for U.S. citizenship. DHS granted T nonimmigrant status to 829 victims and 622 family members in FY 2021, a decrease from 1,040 victims and 1,018 family members in FY 2020. The median processing time for T nonimmigrant status applications was 18 months in FY 2021, compared to 18.6 months in FY 2020, 16.2 months in FY 2019, and 12.1 months in FY 2018.

DHS made efforts to support victims’ access to immigration options. In October 2021, DHS issued updated policy guidance on T nonimmigrant status applications, including on eligibility requirements, evidentiary standards, burdens of proof, and the physical presence eligibility ground. In January 2022, DHS updated the T nonimmigrant status application to clarify filing requirements and assist applicants, attorneys, and representatives with preparing their petitions. Further, DHS expanded outreach to stakeholders to increase their awareness of humanitarian immigration programs. These efforts increased transparency and helped victims and their advocates prepare applications.

DHS also released updated resource guides on Continued Presence and T nonimmigrant status and conducted corresponding trainings for law enforcement to improve accessibility to these immigration options. DHS updated its immigration enforcement case management system to better ensure it did not subject individuals approved for Continued Presence to inappropriate enforcement actions, such as detention or removal, and moved to electronic processing of Continued Presence applications. In June 2021, DHS updated its policy to newly conduct bona fide determinations for U nonimmigrant status petitions, whereby DHS determines a petition is compliant with initial requirements and other relevant considerations. A bona fide determination allows DHS to provide employment authorization and deferred action to eligible applicants while they await final adjudication of their petitions.

To implement a victim-centered approach in civil immigration enforcement actions involving foreign national crime victims, including human trafficking victims, DHS issued a directive stating it will exercise prosecutorial discretion in appropriate circumstances to facilitate access to justice and victim-based immigration benefits. The policy also states DHS officials will look for indicia, or evidence, that suggests a foreign national is a victim of crime, seek expedited adjudication of victim-based immigration applications, and refrain from taking civil immigration enforcement action against foreign national victims of crime, including releasing foreign national victims from immigration detention and granting a stay of removal or deferred action.

Advocates noted improvements in DHS trainings, policies, and public outreach on human trafficking and immigration relief available to victims. Advocates again reported the administration’s actions to review, rescind, or not implement prior modifications to certain forms of humanitarian relief as well as the re-establishment of stakeholder communication improved transparency and access to immigration protection.

However, advocates again reported significant obstacles to obtaining T nonimmigrant status. For instance, advocates noted adjudicators continued to request additional evidence and continued to inappropriately issue T nonimmigrant status denials, such as denials based on unlawful acts traffickers compelled victims to commit, based on improperly interpreted statutes and regulations or narrower interpretations of the physical presence requirement; the additional requests for evidence increased overall processing times. Lengthy T nonimmigrant status processing times added vulnerabilities for survivors who lacked legal status or whose time-limited support services expired. Advocates called for improvements to T nonimmigrant status processing, such as hiring additional staff and streamlining forms. NGOs again voiced concern with the fact that DHS generally does not conduct bona fide determinations for T nonimmigrant status applications, which could allow applicants to receive deferred action from removal and employment authorization while they await final adjudication of their application. Advocates reported this has left trafficking victims in vulnerable situations, whether in immigration detention, unable to legally work, or at risk of removal, the latter of which would make them ineligible for T nonimmigrant status. NGOs again called for DHS to improve training for adjudicators and incorporate input from survivors and other nongovernmental subject matter experts.

Advocates reported continued concern with the low number of Continued Presence requests made by law enforcement and noted the heightened importance of this temporary status to access services given increased obstacles to obtaining T nonimmigrant status. NGOs again called for targeted training of law enforcement in geographic areas with the greatest disparities between requests for Continued Presence and applications for T nonimmigrant status. Advocates again reported survivors of sex trafficking were more likely to obtain Continued Presence than survivors of labor trafficking.

DHS is required to screen certain individuals for human trafficking, including unaccompanied children and some detained individuals. In the case of foreign national adults apprehended, interdicted, or in detention pending removal from the United States, DHS does not mandate screening of such individuals for trafficking indicators. To enhance protections for unaccompanied children and combat child trafficking, DHS and HHS share responsibility for the processing, treatment, and placement of unaccompanied children. This includes a screening by DHS within 48 hours of apprehension, transfer of certain unaccompanied children to HHS custody within 72 hours, and prompt placement by HHS in the least restrictive setting that is in the best interest of the child. When foreign national children are placed in the care and custody of HHS, they are screened for human trafficking. HHS assesses the safety of sponsor placements for unaccompanied children prior to their release from the government’s custody and provides post-release case management services to certain unaccompanied children to promote their safety and well-being. The TVPA also requires any federal, state, or local official with information on a foreign national minor who may have experienced human trafficking to refer those cases to HHS to assess whether the minor is eligible for services to the same extent as a refugee.

DHS made efforts to identify victims among individuals encountered at the border and during immigration enforcement. These efforts included implementing a new requirement for all DHS officers at the border to complete human trafficking awareness training, creating a working group to add human trafficking-specific questions to DHS’s medical screening form for detained individuals, and designating points of contact in its immigration enforcement field offices to identify and refer potential trafficking victims to appropriate DHS offices and coordinate with attorneys or representatives on immigration benefits applications.

The government continued to implement an order under Title 42 of the U.S. Code that authorized the government to suspend the introduction of certain migrants arriving to the northern and southwest border who would otherwise be introduced into a congregate setting. In March 2022, an appellate court ruled the government can continue expelling individuals from the United States under Title 42 but cannot expel them to places where they will be persecuted or tortured, although this order had not gone into effect by the end of the reporting period. Separately, in December 2021 pursuant to a federal court order, the government reimplemented its policy to return to Mexico certain foreign nationals who arrived by land while their U.S. removal proceedings were pending. The government updated the policy to apply to all nationals within the Western Hemisphere (other than Mexico), added individualized exemptions to the program based on certain vulnerabilities such as known mental or physical health issues, and provided that individuals encountered will be affirmatively asked questions by DHS personnel about their potential fear of return to Mexico. While implementing this policy, the government did not screen for trafficking among the individuals it returned to Mexico.

Advocates expressed concern about the long-term, cumulative effects on trafficking survivors of prior immigration enforcement policies, as well as the government’s ongoing implementation of Title 42 and its policy to return potential asylum-seekers to Mexico while their cases were pending. They noted the two ongoing policies left migrants at higher risk of human trafficking and without access to legal protections called for by U.S. and international law. NGOs noted concern about the heightened risk of human trafficking for individuals forced to return to Mexico and find shelter in unsecured and unsanitary temporary camps, where they were often targeted by gangs and other criminals while awaiting asylum interviews. Further, NGOs have identified cases where unaccompanied children, whose families were returned to Mexico, were subsequently subjected to trafficking in the United States. One NGO report recorded more than 7,600 reports of crimes, including several potential cases involving human trafficking, perpetrated against individuals between February 2021 and October 2021 after they were forced to return to Mexico by the U.S. government. NGOs noted this policy expanded and would expel to Mexico migrants from Haiti and other Caribbean countries who are predominantly Black, placing these migrants at heightened risk of crime victimization, such as human trafficking, due to racial discrimination, language barriers, and lack of legal status. Advocates continued to report foreign national victims remained in trafficking situations because they were afraid to report their cases to law enforcement, pursue immigration options, or seek services. NGOs also reported transgender individuals were less likely than cisgender individuals to be released from immigration detention, even after being identified as trafficking victims by law enforcement. Advocates continued to report that though the TVPA requires trafficking screening and the provision of age-appropriate services and protections, the government failed to fully implement these protections and provide comprehensive legal and social services to unaccompanied children released from HHS custody. Advocates recommended HHS provide services, such as case management and legal representation, to all unaccompanied children upon the children’s release from its custody to better support them with rebuilding their life in a new country and subsequently decrease their vulnerability to human trafficking.

The U.S. government continued to provide training, both directly and through NGO partnerships, for federal, state, local, and tribal officials, as well as for NGO service providers and health and human service providers, to encourage more consistent application of victim-centered, trauma-informed, and culturally responsive approaches in all phases of victim identification, assistance, recovery, and participation in the criminal justice process.

The U.S. government increased efforts to prevent trafficking. The government continued to implement a comprehensive three-year national action plan to combat human trafficking and in December 2021 released an updated version that incorporated actions to advance gender and racial equity; workers’ rights; safe, orderly, and humane migration; and support for underserved communities. To enhance transparency and stakeholder input, the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons reported on agency accomplishments and future efforts and again invited members of the presidentially-appointed survivor advisory council to join its meeting. DOJ released a comprehensive multi-year national strategy to strengthen capacity and coordination within DOJ to combat human trafficking. HHS announced the establishment of a task force to prevent human trafficking, focusing on expanding access to services for survivors and preventing forced labor in health care supply chains, among other initiatives. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) released its revised policy to combat trafficking in persons aimed at promoting trauma-informed and survivor-centered approaches and strengthening partnerships. In FY 2021, Congress made available $99 million in foreign assistance resources to State and USAID to support international anti-trafficking initiatives in countries in every region of the world. Although it increased overall efforts to prevent trafficking, advocates continued to call for the government to prioritize a more comprehensive and proactive approach to address the factors and conditions that increase vulnerabilities to human trafficking, such as the exclusion of domestic and agricultural workers from legal worker protections. In addition, the government did not increase its ability to prevent human trafficking in its employment-based and other nonimmigrant visa programs or to hold employers, farm labor contractors, and their agents, including labor recruiters, accountable for practices known to lead to human trafficking.

HHS continued to fund an NGO to operate the national human trafficking hotline. In FY 2021, the hotline received 66,308 signals, including calls, texts, chats, online tips, and emails that were substantive in nature (i.e., excluding hang-ups, wrong numbers, missed signals, and signals in which the hotline could not determine the signaler’s reason for calling); identified 10,983 potential human trafficking cases; and provided referrals for 10,633 unique signalers. More than 13,538 signals came from individuals who identified themselves as potential victims of trafficking seeking help. The government operated other tip lines that received calls or messages related to suspected human trafficking cases.

The government continued public outreach measures on the causes and consequences of human trafficking and continued to seek and incorporate survivors’ expertise into policies and programs. Agencies provided funding, materials, and trainings related to human trafficking awareness to federal grantees, school communities, public health providers, and public and private sector transportation stakeholders, among others, including on trauma-informed and victim-centered approaches to human trafficking. For the fifth year, HHS continued its leadership academy composed of survivors and anti-trafficking professionals, with the latest cohort developing recommendations for service providers that receive federal, state, or local funding to build their capacity to address institutional inequities and better serve communities of color and those at risk of human trafficking.

Advocates urged the government to evaluate the effectiveness of anti-trafficking outreach efforts, including trainings, and ensure educational materials are survivor-informed and tailored to the industry of those being trained. NGOs called for all professionals, especially healthcare workers and educators who are likely to encounter potential human trafficking victims and survivors, to receive human trafficking training, including on how to identify vulnerabilities traffickers target and connect victims to support. NGOs noted the lack of prevalence data is a barrier to effective anti-trafficking prevention efforts and that the government did not publish a report on prevalence in the United States as required by law; they called for additional nationwide prevalence studies to better target anti-trafficking efforts.

Advocates continued to call for the government to prioritize a more comprehensive and proactive approach to address the factors and conditions—including those created by government policies or structures like the criminal justice system, immigration system, housing, and healthcare—that increase vulnerabilities to human trafficking. For example, advocates called for the government to create economic opportunities to empower individuals in communities it has historically placed at higher risk of human trafficking through discriminatory policies, such as individuals who are Black, Indigenous, people of color, or LGBTQI+, and to further examine racism and discrimination as root causes. Workers in domestic and agricultural sectors, performing duties historically performed by people who were enslaved, people who were formerly enslaved, and their descendants, remained specifically excluded from legal worker protections under federal law. Their lack of legal protections, combined with the heightened isolation, economic uncertainty, and health risks due to COVID-19, increased their risk of human trafficking.

DOL, DHS, and State screen and approve employers and workers for temporary foreign worker programs to ensure compliance with program requirements, including worker protections. To reduce workers’ vulnerability to exploitation, including human trafficking, the United States bars employers participating in these programs and/or their agents (whether or not those agents or others in the recruitment chain are in contractual privity with the employer or a recruiter, whether or not located in the United States, and whether or not such agents are governmental or non-governmental entities) from seeking or receiving payments from workers for any activities related to obtaining labor certification or employment. These payments include job placement and recruitment fees and salary and wage deductions. The United States requires that the terms of employment be disclosed. When State conducts visa interviews, it has direct contact with visa applicants and can apprise applicants of their legal rights pertaining to worker protections related to their temporary employment. In addition, the government can use the criminal statute that prohibits the use of fraud to recruit, solicit, or hire workers abroad to come to the United States to work to hold employers and their agents criminally responsible for abusive employment practices commonly associated with forced labor. In FY 2021, DOL conducted 248 and 538 audits of temporary labor certifications for H-2A and H-2B petitions, respectively, and as it did not receive any voluntary disclosures from employers applying for a temporary labor certification that they or their agents charged workers a prohibited fee, did not deny any temporary labor certification applications solely on that basis. DOJ initiated one prosecution for fraud in foreign labor contracting in FY 2021. State extended its interview waiver authorization for certain first-time H-2 visa applicants and expanded the waiver to include additional visa categories, which again reduced the government’s ability to verbally ensure applicants knew their rights and to detect potential cases of fraud that increase applicants’ vulnerability to human trafficking. As part of the administration’s strategy to promote safe, orderly, and humane migration in and from North and Central America, as well as the Caribbean, the government expanded access to legal migration pathways, including the H-2 visa program. To do so, USAID provided technical assistance and staffing to the governments in northern Central America to increase their ability to recruit potential H-2 workers within their country, connect with U.S. businesses to increase demand for workers from those countries, and facilitate the completion and submission of H-2 visa applications. The U.S. government issued H-2 visas to 9,797 northern Central American applicants in FY 2021. Of those, 1,776 applicants applied with USAID assistance (the remaining visas were issued to workers recruited through private recruiters).

Oversight of employment-based and other nonimmigrant visa programs remained weak, and structural conditions embedded in some of these programs continued to enable human traffickers—employers, labor contractors, or agents—to maintain control of workers. NGOs stated the administration’s expansion of the H-2 visa program without having first addressed insufficient oversight and the longstanding structural weaknesses of it placed workers at greater risk to human trafficking. Advocates called for the government to launch an investigation into how a group of 24 employers and farm labor contractors who allegedly subjected more than 100 H-2 workers to forced labor were able to petition for more than 70,000 H-2A positions over the course of six years. Advocates called for an audit of the H-2A program and expressed concern that the government had not followed up with the other workers on the defendants’ petitions to ensure they were not being exploited. Advocates continued to call for regulatory changes to uncouple employment visas from an employer or sponsor and to protect individuals in certain temporary worker programs to the same extent as workers in other programs. NGOs recommended the government develop a more accessible database with real-time information to enable workers to verify the existence of a job, self-petition, and access job-related information. In June 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court found a state regulation allowing labor organizers onto private agricultural property during non-work hours to talk with employees constituted taking private property for public use without just compensation. NGOs said this decision further isolated farmworkers and left them more vulnerable to exploitation, especially among H-2A workers, whose visas are tied to their employers.

Formal and informal recruiters, labor contractors, and agents continued to charge workers prohibited fees, and the government’s enforcement of the ban on worker-paid recruitment fees and other prohibited practices meant to prevent workers from experiencing situations of heightened risk to human trafficking remained weak. NGOs urged DOL to require H-2A labor contractors to submit an H-2A application with an agricultural business as a joint employer so that the business is also liable for the recruitment and treatment of workers. NGOs called for the government to increase transparency of the recruitment process, prioritize holding accountable employers and farm labor contractors, as well as their agents who have exploited workers and violated visa program regulations, and pass federal legislation to regulate foreign labor recruitment, including creation of a public registry of certified labor recruiters.

State continued its oversight of the Exchange Visitor Program (EVP, commonly referred to as the “J-1 visa”), which includes among others the Summer Work Travel (SWT) and Au Pair programs. State continued to monitor exchange visitors to help safeguard their health, safety, and welfare and to identify and investigate program fraud and abuse. It also continued to increase its virtual monitoring capabilities through exchange visitor surveys and reached approximately 42,000 exchange visitors that way in 2021. State conducted outreach to raise program sponsors’ awareness of their administrative oversight and reporting obligations to State with respect to the health, safety, and welfare of exchange visitors. State continued to liaise and collaborate with law enforcement on criminal investigations relating to the EVP and created a pamphlet to educate exchange visitors on their rights. State continued to sanction sponsors that violated EVP regulations throughout the reporting period, but none were for trafficking or trafficking-related crimes.

Advocates continued to report the need for additional steps to reduce the risks of exploitation in some EVP categories, noting two recent cases of EVP abuse, potential human trafficking cases identified by the national human trafficking hotline, and concerns with fraudulent recruitment practices. Advocates noted that program fees left some SWT participants indebted upon arrival to the United States. One advocacy group noted SWT participants in hospitality placements in one Midwestern state were often at increased risk to trafficking due to isolation and dependency on their employer for housing. A news report featuring interviews with former and current au pairs in the EVP detailed a lack of oversight of sponsors and families, including false promises, threats of removal, and frequent sponsor non-compliance with the program’s reporting requirements. Advocates called for increased protections for the SWT (specifically for hospitality placements) and au pair categories under U.S. labor and employment laws. Specifically, for the au pair category, advocates recommended increased program oversight by State, more accountability of sponsors and participating employers, and greater transparency about employers and occupations.

State and the U.S. Mission to the UN continued to implement their respective domestic worker in-person registration programs for A-3 and G-5 visa holders employed by foreign mission and international organization personnel in the United States. Due to the pandemic, the programs remained virtual, using phone and video registrations. In June 2021, in accordance with the TVPA, State suspended for five years the A-3 visa sponsorship privileges afforded to Cameroonian bilateral mission members because the Government of Cameroon declined to waive diplomatic immunity for U.S. criminal proceedings involving mistreatment of a domestic worker and did not initiate its own prosecution. This suspension followed State’s March 2021 request that the Government of Cameroon waive immunity of a Cameroonian mission member following an investigation into allegations including fraud in foreign labor contracting and collection of data and State’s requiring the departure of the individual from the United States.

Lawsuits in Colorado, Georgia, Texas, and California remained pending against privately owned and operated detention facilities contracted by DHS. These lawsuits allege the contractors forced detained non-citizens to work in violation of the TVPA during their federal immigration detention. DHS is not party to the lawsuits, nor are any of its component agencies.

Advocates again asserted that labor by individuals in immigration detention and prisons perpetuates slavery and its legacy of racial injustice. They continued to call for the government to end its use of labor in immigrant detention facilities, whether government-operated or operated through contracts with private entities, as these detained non-citizens have not been convicted of a crime. They also called on the government to close all privately run immigration detention facilities and amend the U.S. Constitution to eliminate the exception to the Thirteenth Amendment that allows for slavery or involuntary servitude as punishment for those convicted of a crime.

Civil enforcement of federal laws continued to be a significant component of the government’s anti-trafficking efforts. DOL investigated complaints and conducted targeted civil labor investigations involving workers in industries and sectors known to be vulnerable to labor trafficking, including complaints or investigations related to temporary foreign worker programs. Where appropriate, DOL refers these cases for criminal investigation. In FY 2021, DOL continued such enforcement activities in industries including agriculture, landscaping, hospitality, seafood processing, construction, garment, health care, and child care. In FY 2021, DOL made seven referrals to federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies or task forces and referred two cases involving allegations of human trafficking within the H-2 visa program to DOL’s inspector general, compared with nine referrals and two cases in FY 2020, respectively. (The FY 2020 number of referrals to law enforcement agencies (nine) and cases involving allegations of human trafficking within the H-2 visa program (two) represent corrections to the numbers cited last year (14 and six, respectively.)) Additionally, five law enforcement agencies referred cases to DOL, and one law enforcement agency requested DOL assistance. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces federal employment discrimination statutes and continued to investigate civil employment discrimination charges filed by or on behalf of victims of trafficking and seek compensation where evidence of discrimination was found. At the conclusion of the investigation, the EEOC has the authority to file lawsuits to protect the rights of individuals and the interests of the public; it litigates a small percentage of the charges it investigates. In FY 2021, the EEOC received 15 new charges of discrimination linked to human trafficking, compared to three in FY 2020. For the seven charges of discrimination the EEOC resolved in FY 2021, the EEOC recovered $6,750 in monetary benefits, compared to $0 in monetary benefits it recovered in resolution of charges in FY 2020. In May 2021, the EEOC recovered more than $4.8 million to satisfy a judgement in a national origin and race discrimination lawsuit against a U.S.-based employer in Hawaii who, along with a farm labor contractor, subjected workers to physical violence, removal threats, a variety of discriminatory pay practices, and inhumane living and working conditions. As of September 30, 2021, the EEOC had 11 pending charges linked to human trafficking.

NGOs stated DOL and the EEOC investigative divisions continued to be significantly underfunded and their work to protect workers underprioritized, which inhibited meaningful or systematic enforcement of labor laws and detection of forced labor in industry supply chains. Advocates called for expanded authorities and additional resources to be allocated to DOL and the EEOC to enhance efforts to address labor trafficking cases.

The government made efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts, including by prosecuting individuals for sex trafficking involving children. DHS conducted operations targeting online platforms used by sex traffickers to disrupt and dismantle their operations and to identify and assist victims of human trafficking. The government’s ad hoc working group on demand reduction convened two listening sessions with anti-trafficking stakeholders. The government provided anti-trafficking training to its diplomats.

Advocates called for greater efforts to address demand for all forms of human trafficking. Advocates urged the government to ensure stakeholder engagement on demand reduction is trauma-informed, is survivor-informed, and prioritizes the inclusion of diverse experiences and voices.

The government made efforts to reduce the demand for participation in extraterritorial sexual exploitation and abuse (commonly referred to as “international sex tourism”) by its citizens, including by proactively investigating allegations of child sexual exploitation crimes perpetrated overseas by U.S. citizens and partnering with foreign law enforcement counterparts to share information regarding international travel of registered child sex offenders. Four defendants were federally convicted in FY 2021 of engaging in extraterritorial child sexual exploitation and abuse, compared to at least three in FY 2020. Offenders who abuse children abroad may have been prosecuted under other statutes, which are not reflected in this statistic.

DOJ and other federal law enforcement agencies did not receive any allegations of forced labor or recruitment fees charged to third-country nationals working on certain U.S. government contracts abroad. DOJ did not initiate any federal criminal prosecutions of employers or labor contractors for such violations in FY 2021.

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) notified agencies’ procurement offices three times of specific concerns regarding human trafficking risks in certain supply chains. Additionally, OMB updated the human trafficking training for the acquisition workforce. Despite a 2019 directive for certain agencies to designate a senior accountable official to ensure effective implementation of anti-trafficking acquisition rules and best practices, not all had done so by the end of the reporting period. As stated in the Prosecution section above, in FY 2021, DoD reported investigating 31 cases related to forced labor in federal contracts, compared to 112 cases in FY 2020. DoD took action against noncompliant employers and labor contractors resulting in 16 local corrective actions, one guilty plea in federal court, 12 actions with outcomes not reported, and two cases with no action taken by DoD. Where appropriate, DoD refers these cases for criminal investigation or pursues criminal investigations. DHS did not debar any entities and did not convict any individuals of engaging in human trafficking from conducting business with the federal government.

The government increased efforts to prevent human trafficking in U.S. private sector supply chains. DHS continued to enforce the law that prohibits the importation of goods mined, produced, or manufactured, wholly or in part, under forced labor conditions, including forced child labor. DHS received 42 allegations and issued nine Withhold Release Orders and one finding for shipments of goods where information reasonably indicated that merchandise within the purview of Title 19 U.S. Code section 1307 is being, or is likely to be, imported into the United States, resulting in the detention of 1,469 shipments worth approximately $486 million, compared with 50 allegations and 16 Withhold Release Orders and one finding within the previous reporting period. DHS modified three Withhold Release Orders and one finding after determining the companies remediated concerns about the use of forced labor. DHS did not collect any civil penalties for violations of U.S. trade law regarding goods produced with forced labor. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative engaged with trade ministers to coordinate with partner countries, regional and multilateral organizations, worker organizations, businesses, civil society, and other key stakeholders to combat forced labor in their supply chains. DOL launched a new online compliance and accountability tool that shows which U.S. imports may be at higher risk for being made with child labor, forced labor, or forced child labor.

The government continued its efforts to prevent U.S. businesses and consumers from interacting with or purchasing from entities engaged in forced labor and other human rights abuses in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (Xinjiang) and beyond, including by issuing an updated business advisory, imposing export controls, and issuing sanctions against officials and entities. In December 2021, Congress passed and agencies began implementing legislation giving the government new tools to prevent goods made with forced labor in Xinjiang from entering U.S. markets, such as the creation of a rebuttable presumption that all goods manufactured wholly or in part in Xinjiang are the product of forced labor and not entitled to entry at U.S. ports of entry.

The Government Accountability Office made recommendations for DoD to prevent the availability of goods produced by forced labor at its military commissaries and exchanges, including establishing an overarching policy and consistent processes to prevent the availability of such goods, establishing an oversight mechanism to monitor implementation, and using available federal information to identify risks. NGOs commended DHS’s increased enforcement of its prohibition on the importation of goods produced with forced labor but recommended DHS increase transparency of its processes.

In April 2021, DOI established a new unit to support interagency work to resolve “cold cases” involving missing or murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives and to address underlying causes, including human trafficking. DOJ funded approximately $2.5 million to a grantee in Alaska for a five-year project to design and implement a human trafficking public awareness victim services campaign that will reach the entire state of Alaska. In FY 2021, HHS again funded a grant program in six locations to strengthen the response to victims of human trafficking in American Indian and Alaska Native communities. In FY 2021, HHS again funded a demonstration grant program to provide comprehensive case management services for Indigenous survivors of human trafficking in Alaska, Hawaii, Minnesota, North Carolina, Washington, and Wisconsin. HHS continued to offer online training to educate health care providers serving American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders regarding human trafficking and its effect on their communities. In FY 2021, DOJ awarded more than $32 million to tribal governments under its program to address domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, sex trafficking, and stalking and awarded $733,691 to tribal governments to exercise special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction. In March 2022, the U.S. Congress reauthorized a law that included a provision to expand the special criminal jurisdiction of tribal courts to cover non-Native perpetrators of violent crime, including sex trafficking; other provisions of the law increase access to federal resources and data for Native communities and support the development of a pilot project to enhance access to safety for survivors in Alaska Native villages.

Advocates expressed concern that the government did not adequately address human trafficking within American Indian and Alaska Native communities, noted existing programs were not designed to meet their needs, and highlighted the vulnerabilities created by systemic oppression, continued underfunding, and historical trauma that have led to significant rates of human trafficking among those communities. Advocates recommended increased investment in these communities, including trauma-informed cultural humility training for service providers, law enforcement, and court systems, and more culturally appropriate and community-specific support and services.


Trafficking in persons occurs in the U.S. insular areas, including American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI).

In Guam and CNMI, DHS continued to engage with community partners to provide victim services, train law enforcement, and share strategies for improving victim identification. DOJ continued to advance an initiative that enhances coordination with stakeholders in the Pacific Region on victim services, law enforcement responses, training, community outreach, and prevention programs. DOJ and DHS continued to participate, along with local authorities in Puerto Rico, in the crimes against children task force. In Puerto Rico, DHS engaged with federal, state, and local partners to combat sex trafficking and sexual exploitation of minors, as well as the prevalence of online child sexual abuse material.

HHS provided comprehensive case management services to foreign national victims of trafficking identified in American Samoa, Guam, CNMI, Puerto Rico, and USVI, and two DOJ grantees provided comprehensive and legal services to victims of all forms of trafficking in CNMI. HHS partnered with an NGO to provide virtual trainings on human trafficking and trauma-informed care for individuals with lived experience of human trafficking to government and nongovernment stakeholders in Guam, including what human trafficking looks like in the local context, identifying key partners that should comprise a multidisciplinary response, and providing trauma-informed practices for frontline professionals. HHS announced a new program to fund local organizations in Pacific territories, including America Samoa, Guam, and CNMI, to deliver services to foreign nationals who have experienced trafficking in those territories.

As part of the prosecution statistics previously mentioned, DOJ filed two new human trafficking cases, one each in Puerto Rico and USVI, and convicted three defendants in the same locations.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign national victims in the United States, and traffickers exploit victims from the United States abroad. Human trafficking cases have been reported in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories. Individuals who entered the United States with and without legal status have been identified as trafficking victims. Victims originate from almost every region of the world; the top three countries of origin of victims identified by federally funded providers in FY 2021 were the United States, Mexico, and Honduras. Human trafficking patterns in the United States continued to reflect the living legacy of the systemic racism and colonization globalized during the transatlantic slave trade through chattel slavery and regional practices of Indigenous dispossession. Traffickers often target those who experience compounding forms of discrimination (such as discrimination because of one’s racial or ethnic group, gender identity, disability, or sexual orientation), experience violence (such as intimate partner or domestic violence), or interact with government-run programs (such as the criminal justice system, runaway and homeless youth services, foster or institutional care, and the immigration enforcement system). Traffickers compel victims to engage in commercial sex and to work in both legal and illicit industries and sectors, including in hospitality, traveling sales crews, agriculture, janitorial services, construction, landscaping, restaurants, factories and manufacturing, care for persons with disabilities, salon services, massage parlors, retail, fairs and carnivals, peddling and begging, drug smuggling and distribution, religious institutions, child care, and domestic work. Traffickers continued to increasingly use social media platforms to recruit and advertise victims. NGOs reported increasingly seeing cases of human trafficking by a family member, guardian, or intimate partner. Some U.S. citizens engage in extraterritorial child sexual exploitation and abuse in foreign countries.

U.S. Department of State

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