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April 21, 2016

How We Can Protect Temporary Visa Holders from Trafficking

Yesterday, Senator Richard Blumenthal and Representatives Lois Frankel, David Schweikert, Ted Deutch, and Jim Himes introduced the Visa Transparency Anti-Trafficking Act—a bill that would require a more public reporting process for temporary work programs.

If Congress passes this legislation, it would be a huge step towards protecting victims of labor trafficking and exploitation in the United States.

What’s the problem?

Through our work running the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline and BeFree Textline, we have identified nearly 30,000 cases of human trafficking and labor exploitation in the United States.

Our hotline data from last year alone found that 40% of the labor trafficking or exploitation cases reported to us involved victims on temporary visas. These visas include A-3, B-1, G-5, H-2A, H-2B, and J-1.

Here's what we know about these victims’ experiences:

  • 99% of victims thought they were responding to a legitimate job offer during the recruitment process.

  • 29% of these victims experienced fraud or false promises during the recruitment process, specifically relating to the type of work, wages, living conditions and associated fees.

  • The most common methods of control that kept victims within their exploitative situations were forms of economic abuse, like confiscating wages or  threatening to blacklist victims from future employment.

  • Abusive employers also routinely threatened deportation, a very serious threat since the majority of these victims were on visas that tethered them to a single employer.

Overall, we’ve learned that many temporary visa holders experiencing exploitation in the workplace face an impossible choice between leaving their jobs (and risking economic ruin) or staying in hopes that things will improve.

The data from the NHTRC and BeFree textline proves that the abuse of temporary visa holders is undeniable. But this is just a small glimpse into the realities facing the millions of temporary visa holders that come to the U.S. every year.

How do we fix it?

To truly understand this phenomena and create formidable policy solutions, we need access to more information—in particular, the information that the government already collects. Passing this bill will give us access to that critical information.

When granting temporary visas, the federal government gathers data on visas, petitions, extensions, wages, and background information of visa holders. However, there is not an organized system for collecting or reporting this information, making it challenging to identify these workers and the people who are trafficking them. The Visa Transparency Anti-Trafficking Act would require there to be an annual report containing temporary visa data, making it harder for victims to fall through the cracks and be exploited by criminals.

Too many temporary visa holders have fallen prey to abusive employers under government sanctioned work opportunities. This can’t be allowed to continue. Please help us end this by signing our petition urging Congress to pass this legislation here.

Photo credit: Flickr / Baigal Byamba

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