Blog

Washington D.C. - July 1, 2015

On June 30 Executive Director, Cathleen Caron, and other colleagues from the International Labor Recruitment Working Group participated in the Congressional briefing, “Defending Hard-Fought H-2B Worker Protections from Attacks in the Appropriations Process.” Through the appropriations process, Congress is considering to prohibit the Department of Labor from implementing key provisions in the recently issued H-2B visa regulations.  The goal of the briefing was to educate staffers on the need for the protections and to encourage them to defend the regulations from inappropriate Congressional action. 
 
Cathleen focused her presentation on human trafficking and how the new regulations are an important step toward preventing the trafficking that now flourishes throughout the H-2B program.  She started by telling Leopoldo’s story, a Guatemalan worker who along with 14 co-workers were promised high wages planting pine trees in North Carolina on H-2B visas but ended up working in slave-like condition in Connecticut.  Critics of the new rules say that these trafficking stories are isolated incidents of bad actors.  
 
To counter their argument, Cathleen referenced recent studies and statistics to bring home the fact that trafficking under the H-2B program is result of systemic problems.  According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, nearly 50% more potential human trafficking complaints are placed by H-2B visa workers than by workers with more regulated H-2A visas.  Equally as disturbing is the Urban Institute’s recent report on labor trafficking in the United States. Once again, H-2B was the visa category with the most incidences of human trafficking.  A recent Government Accountability Report on H-2 visas urged immediate action to address the myriad abuses by employers.  The problem is well documented and clear. The Department of Labor is finally taking steps to address the problem; this should be strongly encouraged.  The fact that some members of Congress prefer trafficking continue to flourish throughout the H-2B problem is disheartening, at best.
 
The final part of Cathleen’s presentation used Leopoldo’s story to show how five aspects of the new regulations could have prevented his victimization. Ensuring that job contractors, or intermediaries, must demonstrate temporary need helps prevent what happened to Leopoldo. He was recruited for jobs that did not exist. Not only did his job contractor commit fraud on the U.S. government but he enslaved Leopoldo in conditions entirely distinct from what was promised.  If the job contractor, Pro Tree, had to demonstrate temporary need, the government would never have approved the petition.  
 
In another advance, the new regulations mandate that employers provide to workers  a copy of the job order – the document that outlines the job’s terms and conditions before the visa interview at the U.S. consulate.  If Leopoldo had the basic right to know the job’s terms and conditions, he may have had a chance to detect that the recruiter was lying.  
 
The new federal e-registry would have allowed Leopoldo and advocates in the country of origin to verify that the job order matched the government approved one posted on the government website.  
 
Finally, a huge advance, and a direct win for Global Workers’ advocacy on this issue, is the foreign recruiter disclosure. With the new rules, the H-2B employer will be  required to reveal every link in the recruitment supply chain and DOL will make this list public.  This is the first time – for any of the temporary foreign worker programs – that all stakeholders will know the identities and locations of all individuals who are recruiting foreign workers. This critical information is key to enforcing the regulations and preventing severe labor exploitation.  The U.S. government is finally recognizing that if you don’t know who all of the recruiters are it is impossible to prevent violations and establish liability when they do occur.  Global Workers agrees. For potential H-2B visa workers like Leopoldo, it allows them to know that the individual offering a job is a legitimate recruiter connected to a certified employer in the United States. 
 
Overall, the new H-2B regulations are a huge step forward to prevent human trafficking.  We hope that the briefing yesterday helps Congress understand that.

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