Every year, thousands of workers from other countries come to the United States legally on temporary work visas known as H-2As to work in America’s farms and fields. They make the journey, leaving their homes and loved ones behind, because it is the best - in some cases the only - economic opportunity available. They plant, pick and process fruits, vegetables and other crops that keep our supermarkets stocked and our economy humming. Farm owners say these jobs would go unfilled without these migrant workers and their businesses would suffer.
But you wouldn’t know it from a proposal put forward by the U.S. Department of Labor changing the way the visa program operates. Legal migrant workers holding temporary visas are already extremely vulnerable to labor trafficking. The proposed changes would make things even worse.
Additional information Department of Labor’s (DOL) proposed changes to the H-2A temporary agricultural visa program:
- A recent study of cases from the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline found that more than half of the labor trafficking cases over a three-year-period where the victims’ visa status was known involved workers in this country on legal, temporary work visas like H-2As.
- Workers on temporary visas are already extremely vulnerable to trafficking because many of them go into debt to cover fees they are charged - usually illegally - for the visas and for other steps in the process of getting the job. Traffickers then use the fact of the debt to coerce them into working and living in conditions that are inhumane and far different than they were promised.
- The DOL proposal would increase worker responsibility for the cost of transportation, would make matters worse for countless thousands of indebted people.
- Additionally, the National Hotline has learned of numerous cases where H-2A workers were “housed” in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions - like school buses or shacks without running water. Without outside inspections, many of these deplorable conditions would go unnoticed and workers would be trapped in unsafe, unhealthy environments.