Blog

Washington, D.C. - June 9

Global Workers Launches Visas, Inc.

Replacing future immigrants and Americans with temporary foreign workers

Congressional Briefing at Senate Russell Building

Global Workers remained in Washington, D.C. through the week host a similar panel for a very different audience, also surrounding the release of the new report Visas, Inc. This time, the standing room only audience consisted of congressional staffers representing an array of senator and congressmen's offices from both sides of the aisle and U.S. policy advocates from Human Rights Watch, AFL-CIO, National Immigration Law Center and more. 

The panelists spoke to the brokenness of what can cautiously be called a "temporary guestworker program", highlighting the lack of coordination between the State Department, Department of Labor, and Department of Homeland Security. Executive Director, Cathleen Caron shared that during a routine visit with a consular officer overseas “the floodgates opened" when she asked about what types of visas they were concerned about. Focusing the organizations' mission on the H-2 visas, for temporary “low-skilled” workers, there were visas that she was not as familiar with, and many that she had no idea were being used to bring foreign nationals to work in the U.S. This is when she decided a comprehensive study was needed to see what the temporary foreign labor system really looked like, what visas were being used, how, and who was responsible. 
 
Kanthi, a woman from Sri Lanka trafficked to the US on a B-1 visa, shared her story, asking for more Department of Labor oversight once the visa is issued, signaling that even one follow-up visit post-entry to the U.S. would have revealed the exploitation and abuse she was being subjected to, and the illegal activities of her employers. 
 
Congressional staffers asked about legislative changes Global Workers supports to steer the course in resolving these issues. Cathleen Caron and Daniel Costa both provided complementary opinions stressing the importance to shore up protections for U.S. workers so they have a fair shot at these jobs before employers seek workers abroad. Cathleen also highlighted the important role Department of Labor plays and that legislation excluding Department of Labor from its key oversight role was a dangerous path to follow.
 
Finally, panelists cautioned staffers about taking employer lobbying (and complaints) with a grain of salt. Employers have recently been complaining about how "cumbersome" the H-2B regulations make the visa process to obtain workers for industries such as landscaping or seafood processing, and have fought to keep these new and improved regulations from going into effect. Panelists pointed to the fact that the visa process has in fact been designed to facilitate the quick and cheap hiring of foreign labor, and that what employers in fact find cumbersome, are precisely those provisions that protect workers and even the playing field between employers that are paying fair wages and are already providing workers with adequate housing and transportation. 
 
That same day, the Global Workers team met with several Congressional offices to discuss the reports findings and ways to improve the structure of the foreign temporary labor system in the U.S.. Keeping in mind international and other interests, Global Workers communicated the connectedness between the need for transparency and coordination between department, and issues of economy and national security. 
 
Read the previous blog entry for more information on this trip. 

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