President Donald Trump declared this January Human Trafficking Prevention Month. In this spirit, Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Representatives Lois Frankel (D-FL) and Ted Deutch (D-FL) introduced the bicameral bills S.2293 and H.R.4777 – which they’re calling the Visa Transparency Anti-Trafficking Act. If enacted, this would provide more insight into how some unsavory employers and recruiters use visas for human trafficking and forced labor. Ideally, the goal is to empower immigration officials to prevent future victimization.
The Visa Transparency Anti-Trafficking Act
Neither piece of legislation yet has any text, summary, or even a short title as of the time of this writing, but the long title is “A bill to amend section 214(c)(8) of the Immigration and Nationality Act to modify the data reporting requirements relating to nonimmigrant employees, and for other purposes.” Presumably, it will bear the short title “The Visa Transparency Anti-Trafficking Act” – and will be similar if not identical to the 2016 bills of the same name, S.2833 and H.R.5006, which were introduced in April of 2016, but never really went anywhere. According to the announcement, the purpose of this bill is “to prevent human trafficking by bringing more openness to the foreign temporary worker visa process.”
Individuals from other countries are enticed to enter the U.S. — legally or illegally — with promises of steady work and a chance to attend American schools. However, many find themselves coerced into virtual slave labor upon arrival. “Human trafficking is a scourge on our country, and all of us must stand together to stop this grotesque abuse,” Cruz said. “It is nothing less than the face of evil; it completely tears down the rights of its victims, forcing them into modern-day slavery.”
If passed, this legislation will provide “comprehensive public reporting” of critical visa data – hopefully leading to the discovery and rescue of trafficked victims.
How Recruiters Entice Foreign Workers
Hundreds of thousands of workers from other countries enter the United States to work in a number of different professions. These individuals – referred to as guest workers – come through temporary foreign worker visas, which allow them to live and work in the United States for a set period. The permits are managed by the employer, meaning that if guest workers lose their jobs, they are subject to deportation.
Typically, guest workers enlist recruiters to help them find work in the U.S. – and such services don’t come cheap. However, problems arise if the employer subjects the guest worker to unfair or illegal treatment. Since the employer decides the status of the worker’s visa, the immigrant cannot report mistreatment to the government – making such abuse both easier and safer.
Recruiters and employers collaborate to bring in guest workers who are easy to exploit. Liliana Martinez, a G-5 Visa Holder, told the Polaris Project about the abuse guest workers endure both before and after they arrive in the country. “We come with illusions that they will pay a lot here,” she said. “They offer us many things. They bring us here deceived. They bring women who don’t know anything about American laws.”
According to the Polaris Project, 29% of victims “experienced fraud or false promises during the recruitment process, and reported that the nature or working conditions turned out to be substantially different than what they had been told during recruitment.” The guest workers also stated that they received misleading information about living conditions, fees, wages, and benefits.
Victims Forced to Work in Harsh
After coming to the United States, victims experience harsh treatment by their employers. Unfortunately for many, they have no way to escape their plight. Cirilio, an H-2 Visa Holder, described his experience as a guest worker to the Polaris Project. “I felt trapped,” he said. “My debts were mounting, but I was scared to leave the farm without my passport. I didn’t want to get deported and ruin my chances of getting another visa in the future.”
Employers often hold their victim’s passports and other paperwork to keep them under control. The workers know that they are subject to deportation if they are caught without their papers. Additionally, if they do decide to escape from abusive employers, they may lose their chance to return under the guest worker program.
One of the most common ways employers mistreat their workers involves holding back the workers’ earnings and keeping them in debt. In this scenario, the employer would force the victim to work around the clock to pay off the debt they owed for the recruitment process. In this way, the employers keep their victims in a state of virtual slavery – and the victims cannot report the mistreatment to the authorities for fear of deportation.
Human trafficking and forced labor have no place in American society. Unfortunately, certain individuals have used our immigration laws to import slave labor. Their actions go against the values for which our country stands.