Florida 15 trafficking victims get T visas; families to follow?

The defiant Florida 15. Photo: Anakbayan

The defiant Florida 15. Photo: Anakbayan

The Florida 15 victims of human trafficking have been granted T visas and employment certification cards, according to their lawyer.

Lawyer Felix Vinluan said the 15 men and women won the first round of their case against their former employer, Jose “Jojo” Villanueva, proprietor of San Villa Ship Management Co. In a press statement, the litigants said Villanueva failed to renew their H2-B employment visas without their knowledge, leading them to overstay in the U.S. without proper documentation.

The workers were recruited by the San Villa to work at the W Hotel in Miami, Florida as housekeepers and managers from 2008 to 2009. While employed, they said they were subjected to the following:

• They were required to pay up to $7,000 each for placement fees
• Their pay rate was supposed to be $16-17 per hour, but the agency only gave them $6 per hour without overtime pay
• Many were paid only once a month and paychecks were issued very late
• The agency failed to renew their H2-B visas leading some of them to be arrested with pending deportation cases.

The group now known as F-15 sought the assistance of the Anakbayan NY-NJ grassroots organization, which put them in touch with Vinluan and the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns. The continuing investigation led to the approval of their T visas in the beginning of February 2013. The T Visa is a four-year non-immigrant status that allows victims to remain in the U.S. while they assist in an investigation or prosecution of human trafficking, according to the USCIS website. It also enables recipients to petition for family members.

“The efforts to achieve justice for the F-15 are far from over,” Anakbayan said in a statement. “Villanueva and his cohorts have yet to pay back wages and costs to all damages imposed on the trafficked workers. Villanueva is currently in hiding from several civil lawsuits filed against him.”

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