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.
Between January 2015 and December 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.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline Identified
The Plan to End Labor Trafficking
End the current system of tied visas that bind workers to one employer.
Empower migrant workers to exercise their rights in the recruitment process.
Impose real accountability on employers and recruiters.
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.
We will reduce labor trafficking of migrant guest workers in the United States by leveraging our significant relationships, networks, and knowledge base in this space to build upon existing momentum and propel the work forward. We envision the following impact:
The U.S. federal government will successfully enforce penalties on abusive employers and labor protections for migrant workers.
Migrant workers will be fairly recruited and empowered to report on and leave exploitative employers without fear of losing their immigration status.
Employers of the guest workforce will provide fair and equitable working conditions, pay fair wages, and not coerce migrant workers to stay in exploitative situations.
Each year, hundreds of thousands of guest workers from around the world will enter the U.S. on a myriad of temporary work visas. Many of these guest workers are at the mercy of a single employer for both their job and their legal status in the U.S., making them especially vulnerable to human trafficking.
We envision a system that enables migrant workers to be fairly recruited without paying recruitment fees, that enables workers to change employers if they are not being treated fairly, and that holds abusive and exploitative employers accountable for injustices within their operations.