Shepherd (verb): to tend to, guard, and move in a helpful, careful way
- Provides a secure, streamlined way for individuals to request assistance for victims of human trafficking
- Facilitates secure transmission of information for case processing
- Accelerates the issuance of HHS Certification, Interim Assistance, and Eligibility Letters as well as connection to victim assistance programs and benefit-issuing agencies
- Enables individuals to access real-time status of their requests and benefit-issuing agencies to access real-time verification status of HHS letters
- Strengthens data privacy, security, and confidentiality protection for sensitive case-level data related to HHS certification and requests for assistance
- Improves the quality and use of data to inform evidence-based victim assistance and prevention programming
- Fosters public accountability and transparency by providing accurate and timely information for federal reporting and research
New Case Processing
Case requesters can submit electronic Requests for Assistance (RFAs) on behalf of foreign national minors who may be victims of severe forms of trafficking in persons or foreign national adults who have experienced trafficking and received notice from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security granting a person Continued Presence Visit disclaimer page , or a T visa Visit disclaimer page , or that a bona fide T visa application has not been denied.*
*A bona fide T visa application is different from an application receipt from USCIS/DHS. A bona fide T visa application is a formal notice from USCIS/DHS that the application has been through initial review and was found to be complete, properly filed, contains proper evidence, and is clear of fraud. An application receipt from USCIS/DHS does not make an individual eligible. A foreign national adult must have Continued Presence, a T Visa, or a bona fide T Visa application to request an HHS Certification letter. Learn more about bona fide determinations on the USCIS website Visit disclaimer page .
You can also access our new webinar on Responding to Foreign National Minor Victims of Trafficking Visit disclaimer page , which includes a demo of the system.
If you encounter problems loading the Shepherd Visit disclaimer page site, please use our backup PDF Request for Assistance form to submit any trafficking concerns on behalf of a foreign national minor. You can password protect and email the form to our Child Protection Specialist team at ChildTrafficking@acf.hhs.gov. If you are assisting an adult, contact us at Trafficking@acf.hhs.gov or 866-401-5510.
Monday – Friday, 6 a.m. – 9 p.m.
The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA), as amended, requires federal, state, and local officials to notify the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services through the Office on Trafficking in Persons (OTIP) within 24 hours of discovering that a foreign national minor may be a victim of trafficking. A foreign national minor is a non-U.S. citizen or non-lawful permanent resident under the age of 18 at the time of the request. The Request for Assistance (RFA) is used to notify OTIP of trafficking concerns and to request assistance on behalf of the child.
Contact the OTIP Child Protection Specialists by phone at 202-205-4582 or email at ChildTrafficking@acf.hhs.gov.
Case processing time varies, but typically decisions are made within a few weeks. If you need to expedite a case, include the following in the RFA:
- Preferred Benefits Start Date in Section 2
- Reason for urgency (e.g., child has emergency medical concerns, child is seeking placement in the URM foster care program, child is being discharged from the shelter soon, etc.) in Section 4
An Interim Assistance Letter is issued when OTIP determines that a child may have experienced a severe form of trafficking in persons. The Interim Assistance Letter allows the recipient to apply for benefits and services for up to 120 days while OTIP makes a final determination on the case.
An Eligibility Letter is issued when OTIP determines that a child has experienced a severe form of trafficking in persons. The Eligibility Letter does not expire and allows the recipient to apply for benefits and services to the same extent as a refugee.
Note: Some benefits and services may be time-limited or may only be available with an Eligibility Letter, such as the Unaccompanied Refugee Minors (URM) foster care program.
OTIP issues a Denial Letter when there is insufficient information to indicate that the child experienced a severe form of trafficking in persons. However, the requester may take the following actions:
- Contact OTIP for Clarification: Contact the OTIP Child Protection Specialists by email at ChildTrafficking@acf.hhs.gov or by phone at 202-205-4582 if you have any questions.
- Submit a New Request for Assistance: If you receive additional or clarifying information that indicates the child may have experienced forced labor or commercial sex, you may submit a new Request for Assistance. The child must be under the age of 18 when the new RFA is submitted. OTIP will make eligibility determinations for Requests for Assistance, including for applicants who turn 18 during the review process. More information is available in the program instruction.
- Request Reconsideration: You may send a Request for Reconsideration to the Assistant Secretary of the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) within 30 business days of the receipt of the Denial Letter. You should receive a response within 30 days of the receipt of the Request for Reconsideration. This will be considered a final administrative decision.
Send the Request for Reconsideration to: Assistant Secretary, Administration for Children and Families, 330 C Street SW, 4th Floor, Washington, DC, 20024. Include the following:
- Name of the individual denied eligibility
- Brief statement of why the requester believes the denial decision is wrong, including new information or additional documentation that supports the requester’s position
- The initial Request for Assistance package
Foreign national adults in the United States who have been subjected to a severe form of trafficking in persons are eligible for certain benefits and services under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, as amended. Certification Letters let individuals who have experienced trafficking and meet certain eligibility rules apply for the same benefits and services as refugees.
Contact the OTIP Certification Specialist by phone at 866-401-5510 or email at Trafficking@acf.hhs.gov.
Case processing time varies, but typically decisions are made within a few business days. If you need to expedite a case, include the following in the RFC:
- Emergency needs (e.g., client has medical concerns or other time constraints) in Section 2
- Preferred Benefits Start Date in Section 4
Shepherd deploys multiple security mechanisms to secure its communication, data, and infrastructure. Shepherd uses HTTPS protocol to transmit data over the internet. The data transmission is completely encrypted and secured through trusted security certificates. Users log on using two-factor authentication, and documents uploaded to Shepherd are scanned for viruses and malware. ACF conducts periodic security scans to ensure that the system remains secure.