Sexual harassment in New York City workplaces is prohibited under federal, state, and municipal laws. Many victims of alleged sexual harassment feel that they cannot come forward because of threats to their job. Many immigrants, such as those with temporary work visas, often fear deportation on top of losing their jobs. Congress created the U visa to enable immigrant victims of certain crimes to come forward without fear of deportation. This can be very useful in certain sexual harassment cases. The New York City Commission on Human Rights (NYCCHR) recently announced that it will issue U visa certifications, which are a required part of the U visa petition process. It is reportedly the first major city anti-discrimination agency to do this.
A wide range of acts can legally constitute sexual harassment, from subtle patterns or practices involving inappropriate remarks or conduct to overtly criminal acts like sexual assault. The U visa may be of great assistance to people whose claims involve alleged criminal conduct. Congress created the U visa in the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000. It is available to individuals who are present in this country but are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents, if they have “suffered substantial physical or mental abuse” from certain criminal acts. 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15)(U).
The list of crimes that may confer eligibility for a U visa includes several offenses associated with sexual harassment, such as rape, sexual assault, abusive sexual contact, sexual exploitation, and stalking. Id. at § 1101(a)(15)(U)(iii). The federal government may issue up to 10,000 U visas per year, not counting spouses, children, and other dependents. This may benefit temporary immigrant workers who would lose their visas if they leave their jobs, or undocumented immigrants who have few, if any, other legal protections. U visa holders and their families may eventually be eligible to adjust status to permanent residence, commonly known as obtaining a green card.
In addition to establishing that they have been the victim of a crime, petitioners for the U visa must demonstrate that they have information connected to criminal activity and that they have “been helpful, [are] being helpful, or [are] likely to be helpful” to an investigation or prosecution. Id. at §§ 1101(a)(15)(U)(i)(II) – (III). A U visa petition must include a certification from a federal, state, or local law enforcement agency or official stating the latter criterion. Id. at § 1184(p)(1), 8 C.F.R. § 214.14(a)(2).
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which investigates federal employment discrimination claims, has established procedures for issuing U visa certifications. The alleged criminal activity “must be related to the unlawful employment discrimination alleged in the charge,” or related to some other act of employment discrimination within the EEOC’s jurisdiction.
Several New York City agencies and offices already issue U visa certifications, including the police department and the district attorneys’ offices. Like the EEOC, they have established procedures for consideration of certification requests. The NYCCHR announced that it will soon be promulgating its own rules.
Phillips & Associates’ sexual harassment attorneys fight for the rights of employees and job applicants in the New York City area in employment claims under city, state, and federal laws. Contact us online or at (212) 248-7431 today to schedule a free and confidential consultation with a knowledgeable and experienced advocate for employee rights.
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Immigrant and Latina Workers in New York Face Sexual Harassment, Other Employment Discrimination, New York Employment Attorney Blog, March 7, 2012