Big Fight on Labor Trafficking

End Labor Trafficking of Migrant Guest Workers in the United States

U.S. businesses say they urgently need workers – particularly in agriculture – to do jobs they cannot otherwise fill and keep our economy running. But the program that allows them to hire workers from overseas for temporary jobs is so badly designed and poorly enforced that the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline routinely hears from migrant workers who are in this country legally and are being exploited or trafficked. Unlike many other complex and seemingly intractable problems, this is one we truly do know how to solve. The system can, in fact, work for everyone. Right now, it is working for traffickers. 

Our economy relies on workers from around the world who come here to fill jobs American businesses say they can’t fill otherwise. We owe it to them to enforce our own rules and protect their rights.

The Problem

From 2015 to 2019, the National Human Trafficking Hotline learned of more than 3,600 victims of labor trafficking who held legal, temporary work visas. They came to this country – most to work in agriculture – and instead of the hard, good-paying jobs they were promised faced abuse and wage theft. They were threatened with deportation if they complained, or trapped in debt for fees they never should have paid in the first place. The patterns in this kind of trafficking are very clear, and so are the solutions.

3,600 LABOR

87% HELD

The Plan to End Labor Trafficking

We aim to end the labor trafficking of migrant guestworkers in the United States by fundamentally changing the system of how workers are recruited and treated in the workplace.

End the current system of tied visas that bind workers to one employer by changing the laws that govern migrant worker visa programs.

Empower migrant workers by increasing access to information about illegal fees and fraudulent recruitment advertisements.

Change the standards of behavior for employers and recruiters through instituting a variety of accountability and enforcement measures and incentives.

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Why Migrant Farmworkers

Our focus on empowering migrant farmworkers to protect their own rights grew out of data that showed the labor trafficking cases we learned about from the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline disproportionately involved victims who were in this country legally on temporary work visas. These visas are supposed to be regulated by the U.S. government in order to ensure both our economy – which relies on migrant workers  – and the rights of these workers  – are protected. Unfortunately, the regulations are badly designed and infrequently enforced. Changing that system is a logical path to doing the greatest good for the greatest number of labor trafficking victims and potential victims in the United States – most of whom originally come from Mexico.

The Latino Face of Human Trafficking and Exploitation in the United States

This report analyzes data from the National Human Trafficking Hotline and exposes the types of trafficking in which people from Latin American and the Caribbean are victimized in the United States.

Human Trafficking on Temporary Work Visas: A Data Analysis 2015-2017

The United States temporary work visa system is badly broken. From 2015-2017, Polaris identified some 800 victims of human trafficking who held temporary visas at the time of their abuse. This report highlights the destructive practice of labor trafficking on temporary work visas, how the system is flawed, and the steps we need to take to fix it.

Landscape Analysis: Human Trafficking for the Purpose of Labor Exploitation in Mexico

This report gathers information on labor trafficking cases in Mexico, reports on the social composition of victims and the characteristics of the populations that are most at risk, and suggests ways to develop comprehensive approaches to contribute to its eradication.

Farmworkers Speak for Themselves

The people who get trafficked in the farms and fields of both Mexico and of the United States, have been ignored and essentially fending for themselves against unscrupulous labor practices for generations. Poor labor conditions and trafficking were considered normal in many situations. No one thought to understand how this worked, to see if we could help the workers stop it themselves. Until now.

San Luis Potosi

The first iteration of this work was a small pilot project in the isolated farming community of San Luis Potosi. That effort tested the idea that with the right equipment, we could simultaneously survey this isolated community of workers and provide them with information to help them protect their own rights. This is the findings of that pilot project.


Based on what we learned on the ground in San Luis Potosi, with partner Ulula, we built a unique platform that allows farmworkers to communicate safely – both to share their own experiences and to get information from organizations on the ground to conduct the survey and help test what technology is best suited for large-scale communication with farmworkers. Stay tuned for more.

Help protect victims from labor abuse and trafficking and provide them the rights and protections they deserve while keeping our economy strong.


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Additional Resources

Need help? Polaris operates the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline.