Like many people who come from other countries to work in the United States, Juan José Rosales came to the U.S. to make a better life for himself, trading the prospect of a better financial situation for a temporary amount of time away from his homeland of Mexico. He said that a recruiter promised him that he would get between $7 and $8 an hour while working in the fair and carnival industry on an H-2B visa. And that’s when things went wrong.
Rosales said he paid about $500 in recruitment, visa and passport processing, lodging and transportation fees. He never saw that money again. Once in the United States, he was forced by the fair company to work weeks that frequently totaled more than 72 hours. His rate of pay worked out to about $3.75 per hour. He also lived in trailers with dozens of other people. The living facilities had no air conditioning, dirty bathrooms and lacked kitchens.
The work and living experience Rosales dealt with is far from unique. Recently a story broke about McDonald’s temporary workers with J-1 visas at franchisee locations in Pennsylvania who worked under similar poor conditions. According to a report by Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, workers who come to the United States for temporary jobs under the H-2 visa program widely report similar problems from a wide array of employers. The H-2 visa program has a number of flaws that unscrupulous employers and recruiters readily exploit. Among the key problems:
- Despite the fact that recruitment fees are illegal in both Mexico and the United States, it is standard for recruiters to charge workers an average of $590 for travel, visa and recruitment costs and rarely are these fees reimbursed. More than half of all migrant workers report paying the fees.
- The terms of employment, including wages, work and living conditions, are often misrepresented by recruiters.
- More than half of workers surveyed did not receive a copy of their job contract.
- Because the H-2 visa process is so complicated, it totally lacks in transparency and is difficult for complaints to be filed or enforced.
- One out of every 10 workers reported paying a recruitment fee for a job that didn’t even exist.
- Migrant workers have scant information about their rights and are at an increased risk of being abused or defrauded.
- Government oversight over the recruitment process is very weak.
- Many workers go into debt in order to pay their recruitment fees. They often have to take out loans with high interest rates and have to use their homes as collateral. Such loans can be used to force workers into forced labor, debt servitude or human trafficking.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights also found widespread evidence that migrant workers who come to the United States are systematically exploited by American employers.
Kenneth Quinnell writes for the AFL-CIO blog where this report first appeared.