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Fighting Latino Labor Exploitation

Updated: Mar 15

Our Temporary Work Visa Program can do better to protect U.S. Latino migrant workers.


Major reforms of the U.S. H-2A Temporary Work Visa Program (H2A) are needed to protect our Latino migrant workers. Created in 1986 by the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), the H2A is overseen by the Department of Labor (DOL) and issues 93 percent of its visas to citizens of Mexico. 


In 2021, 258,000 H2A visas were certified with the majority of workers staying for six months and working in the U.S. agriculture industry. With a lack of oversight by the DOL and poorly regulated employer recruitment practices, these vulnerable migrant workers are exploited for their labor. 


The H2A program has seen numerous documented cases of debt-peonage, human trafficking and forced labor. These labor violations are made possible through inherent structural problems within the program, such as the rights of the H2A employers to own and control the visa status of their workers. This imbalance of power promotes mistreatment and creates defenseless foreign workers who are unaware of the law and fearful of deportation.


The DOL needs to establish more far-reaching oversight and regulation over employers and their recruiters in the H2A program. There is currently little to no jurisdiction over foreign recruiters who work for employers abroad. This is where many violations take place: discriminatory practices are rampant throughout the recruitment process. Additionally, employers who have serious labor violations should be permanently barred from the H2A program.


Humanitarian organizations such as Farmworker Justice, a nonprofit organization that seeks to empower migrant and seasonal farmworkers to improve their living and working conditions, ask for foreign guest workers to be treated fairly. They implore the U.S. government to ensure workers have access to legal representation and resources to better understand their rights as workers within the U.S., stating, “foreign guest workers are just that, guests, and should be treated with dignity, not as machines or disposable human beings.” 


Workers should be given the freedom to change employers once violations occur. They must also be given the opportunity to earn immigration status. Once legal immigration status is given to skilled, law-abiding farmworkers, then the need to constantly recruit in the agriculture industry would diminish. 


Ultimately, the responsibility lies in the hands of the DOL, and they must exercise jurisdiction over the illegal recruitment practices and rampant labor violations occurring within the H2A program. With the yearly increase of certified visas increasing rapidly, the call to action has never been more timely or essential than now. 


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.


Sources


“H-2A Temporary Agricultural Program.” United States Department of Labor, (2021). Accessed on February 6, 2022, from https://www.dol.gov/agencies/eta/foreign-labor/programs/h-2a#:~:text=The%20H%2D2A%20temporary%20agricultural,a%20temporary%20or%20seasonal%20nature.    


Martin, Phillip. “A Look at H-2A Growth and Reform in 2021 and 2022.” Wilson Center, 3 Jan. 2022. Accessed on February 13, 2022 from https://www.wilsoncenter.org/article/look-h-2a-growth-and-reform-2021-and-2022.  


Newman, Etan, et al. “No Way to Treat a Guest: Why the H-2A Agricultural Visa Program Fails U.S. and Foreign Workers.” Farmworker Justice, 2021. Accessed on February 13, 2022 from https://www.farmworkerjustice.org/resource/no-way-to-treat-a-guest-why-the-h-2a-agricultural-visa-program-fails-u-s-and-foreign-workers/.

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