Immigration reform is rapidly becoming a legislative priority in 2013 and policymakers have been outlining the components of a comprehensive package, including the expansion of employment-related visas like the H-2 temporary work visa programs. More than 100,000 workers are recruited from abroad for employment in the United States each year under the H-2 programs, to work in such industries as agriculture, landscaping, forestry and hospitality. Today at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., the Centro de Los Derechos del Migrante (CDM, Center for Migrant Rights) released a new report, “Recruitment Revealed: Fundamental Flaws in the H-2 Temporary Worker Program and Recommendations for Change,” which exposes substantial defects in the program’s recruitment systems and proposes policy changes that would prevent future exploitation and abuse. The report is the result of an intensive, multisource investigative study that involved more than 220 interviews with recruited workers.
Until now, little has been understood about the conditions under which migrant workers are recruited for jobs in the United States, often because employment relationships are skewed through multiple levels of subcontracting. To increase transparency in recruitment, an interactive online tool is being launched along with the report. This tool details abuses uncovered through the study, allows the public to report recruitment abuses online, and gives workers the information necessary to make informed choices and avoid duplicitous recruiters.
According to Rachel Micah-Jones, executive director of CDM, while temporary work programs often are presented as a “win-win” situation, where employers and workers come together to fill labor shortages, the reality is that the recruitment of workers takes place in an unregulated, “lawless space” that leaves workers vulnerable to mistreatment. The report explains that many temporary workers are routinely subject to fraud, charged illegal fees and intimidated by recruiters and employers. Furthermore, the report found:
- 58% of workers interviewed reported paying a recruitment fee despite the fact these fees are illegal in both the United States and Mexico;
- 47% of workers reported having to take out a loan to cover pre-employment expenses and fees—in some cases, workers even left deeds to their homes or vehicle titles as collateral; and
- One in 10 workers reported having paid a recruitment fee for a nonexistent job.
Micah-Jones was joined by Adarely Ponce, a Mexican community organizer who has been through the H-2B recruitment process nine times. She put a human face on the report’s findings by telling of her personal experiences with fraud during three of the times she’s dealt with recruiters in various industries. In one case, after recovering her fee of 1,000 pesos from a fraudulent recruiter, she was threatened. In another, she discovered that her “recruiter” was a con artist who went from state to state taking money from desperate workers.
Ana Avendaño, director of Immigration and Community Action at the AFL-CIO, also spoke on the panel, calling temporary work programs “a system that rewards bad behavior” and “bad public policy.” The report, she contended, is an “important moment at a historical time” for immigration reform. While there is growing consensus among politicians that there needs to be a road map to citizenship for the undocumented population, the system for managing employment visas is arbitrary, archaic and brings down labor standards for all workers.
The AFL-CIO is committed to building a commonsense immigration process that includes a road map to citizenship and one that guarantees immigrant workers the same workplace rights and protections all workers deserve. Along with a broad coalition of other groups, America’s union movement is mounting a new campaign to see that the U.S. immigration process reflects our values.