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|January 11, 2018

New Bill Would Bring Transparency to America’s Work Visa System and Fight Human Trafficking

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Jan. 11, 2018)—Polaris, a leader in the global fight to eradicate modern slavery and help survivors restore their freedom, hailed legislation introduced today designed to shed light on the poorly understood temporary foreign worker visa system. The Visa Transparency Anti-Trafficking (VTAT) Act, introduced in Congress by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Representatives Lois Frankel (D-FL), Ted Deutch (D-FL), Randy Weber (R-TX), Jim Himes (D-CT), Ted Poe (R-TX), and David Schweikert (R-AR), on National Human Trafficking Awareness Day would create a uniform system for reporting data that the government already collects on temporary visa programs and require that the information be made publicly available.

Click here to read the joint Congressional press release announcing the introduction.

If VTAT is passed and enacted, policymakers and the public will for the first time have evidence needed to evaluate the impact of temporary visa programs on the economy and to know whether guestworkers are being paid fairly. Advocates will have a valuable tool at their disposal that allows them to inform and reach out to potential victims of labor and sex trafficking.

“I came to the U.S. through Indonesian recruitment agency who promised me 6 months’ employment at a hotel in Chicago after I paid $3000 for the recruitment fee. They obtained the paper work to get the visa. The fact is, I didn't work in the hotel as promised. Instead, I was kidnapped, my passport was taken, the traffickers asked me to pay $30,000 and forced me to be sex slave in the underground sex business in New York, Connecticut and surrounding areas until I escaped,” said Shandra Woworuntu, Founder and Director of the Mentari Human Trafficking Survivor Empowerment Program. “I believe intervention without prevention in combating human trafficking and exploitation is not a complete solution. We need more transparency and better data about workers who come to the U.S., and the Visa Transparency  Anti-Trafficking Act will be perfect to prevent temporary workers who come to the U.S. from being exploited and trafficked like me.”

“Based on reports of labor trafficking and labor exploitation made to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, Polaris knows that the abuse of temporary visa holders is undeniable,” said Joe Racalto, Polaris’s Senior Policy Advisor. “To truly understand the exploitation occurring within the United States’ legal visa system, we need more data, more records, and more information. This legislation will be critical to developing pointed interventions that will help end the abuse of temporary visa holders, and we are incredibly grateful for these Congressional leaders in making it a priority.”

Every year, hundreds of thousands of workers from abroad come to the United States to temporarily fill jobs in a number of occupations, from farm labor and landscaping to the hospitality and technology industries. They come through temporary foreign worker visas, which are distinguished by different “nonimmigrant” visa classifications, each having their own distinct purpose and history. The workers granted these nonimmigrant visas are commonly referred to as guestworkers and are allowed to live and work in the country for a limited period of time, depending on the terms of their specific visa.

The visas, however are controlled by a single employer, which means that if a guestworker gets fired, he or she becomes instantly deportable. Guestworkers usually have to pay exorbitant fees to recruiters to secure their jobs, so as a result, when things go wrong, or if an employer treats a guestworker unfairly or breaks the law, the worker has a strong incentive to keep quiet.

People can receive help or report a tip of suspected human trafficking in the United States by calling the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or by sending a text to Polaris at “BeFree” (233733).

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About Polaris
Polaris is a leader in the global fight to eradicate modern slavery. Named after the North Star that guided slaves to freedom in the U.S., Polaris acts as a catalyst to systemically disrupt the human trafficking networks that rob human beings of their lives and their freedom. By working with government leaders, the world's leading technology corporations, and local partners, Polaris equips communities to identify, report, and prevent human trafficking. Our comprehensive model puts victims at the center of what we do – helping survivors restore their freedom, preventing more victims, and leveraging data and technology to pursue traffickers wherever they operate. Learn more at www.polarisproject.org.