June 16, 2006

Global Workers continues to search for support for the injured guestworker who has returned to Guatemala. Both legal and practical obstacles exist which may prevent the worker from receiving the care he needs. Practically, we have been told, it is challenging to locate a doctor in a foreign country who is willing to follow the American Medical Association’s guidelines for a workers compensation evaluation. To address this concern, we contacted the US embassy in Guatemala to inquire about its list of approved doctors. The embassy was very responsive. It is hoped that a doctor who regularly attends embassy personnel would be familiar and willing to follow the guidelines.

The legal challenges are much more problematic. Apparently, in Maryland (where the worker was injured), a worker must be physically present if there is a workers compensation hearing. Hearings usually occur when the workers compensation carrier denies a request and the claimant (i.e. the worker) challenges it. Currently, no procedures exist to allow for video or telephonic participation. Mandatory physical presence is impractical and perhaps impossible for a worker who has returned to his/her country of origin. First, there is no guarantee that the worker will be able to obtain a visa to return to the United States to testify. Second, the cost of traveling to the United States may well exceed any potential benefits gained by a successful hearing. Consequently, if a worker leaves the United States after a compensable work injury, and a disagreement arises necessitating a hearing, the worker will not likely prevail potentially threatening continued medical care or benefits.

In this specific case, the worker had no information about how he to utilize the workers compensation system after he returned to Guatemala. Because of this all medical care ceased and his conditioned has worsened.

This case illustrates how the current guestworker program unfairly treats the workers who are injured will working legally in the United States. To correct this, workers must be informed that they may continue to receive medical care and benefits even after they have returned home. Additionally, the legal system must accommodate the guestworkers who are required to leave the United States once their contract is finished. Workers compensation hearings must allow for video or telephonic presence of the claimant worker. If these changes do not occur, injured guestworkers will continue to be shipped home where the likelihood of continued care is slight at best—a shameful practice indeed.

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