Here's what we emailed October 12, 2021. Sign up for updates directly in your inbox.
Over 30 years ago, the U.S. H2 visa program was split into two categories: H-2A (for agricultural workers) and H-2B (for all other industries). Companies can use the H2 program to hire foreign workers for seasonal or short-term work, provided employers have tried to find local labor and foreign workers are temporary. Further, before offering the position, employers have to interview candidates and share their rights, such as paying them twice a month and providing copies of their contract, housing, transportation, and three daily meals.
Problem is, there’s growing concern over how many of these workers are being trafficked — a situation worsened by the pandemic. In fact, the number of likely labor trafficking survivors with H-2A visas increased by more than 70% during a 6-month period of the pandemic. What’s going on?
- First, employer power. Being responsible for everything from housing to transport not only gives the employer complete control of their workers’ whereabouts and lifestyle 24/7, it also makes it easy for employers to force H2 workers into extensive hours, extended periods without pay, and other labor.
- Second, COVID-19 shut down labor offices, effectively ceasing all hiring requirements. In absence of required interviews and information disclosure, workers were starting roles without knowing their rights. As a result, the number of daily labor trafficking and exploitation reports to the National Human Trafficking Hotline doubled.
Now, 24 agricultural workers are suing their employer, claiming coerced travel to Illinois under false promises. The lawsuit details use of intimidation tactics against workers’ complaints, including work without pay and threats of deportation or ruin of all prospects for another U.S. job. To make matters worse, there are many challenges to prosecuting labor trafficking crimes, such as the difficulty of proving workers were defrauded. And many survivors may even be too fearful of repercussions to come forward.
And attempts to improve conditions are being decried as simplistic solutions that will instead worsen the situation. One California city is building a massive H-2A labor camp in hopes of improving both working and living conditions for farm workers. While the facility meets the standard requirements — including 50 square feet of sleeping space per worker and 10 workers to each toilet and shower — advocates say it’s not enough, especially as the facility is located in a hazardous, industrial area. They also cite concerns over giving more power to employers by housing workers in an isolated part of the city.
At the federal level, a bipartisan bill was passed in March to improve pathways to citizenship for agricultural workers. Currently stuck in the senate, some are disappointed saying the legislation does not address the root cause of labor exploitation.
🎬 Take Action
Know an H-2A worker or someone considering applying? Be sure to share this resource on COVID-19 related worker rights to help them stay informed amidst lockdowns.
- The Counter (Where we found this story) 2 weeks old | 13 minutes long
- Department of Labor The H-2A program 6 minutes long
- Santa Maria Times Proposed California housing project 12 days old | 5 minutes long
- The Counter Illinois labor pool shrinks 1 month old | 14 minutes long
/`\ / \o / |_______ ~~~~~/~~~~~~|/////// ~~ | ~~ ```````` ~~| ~~~ ~~ ~~~~ |```J``| | | . o | H-2A | o | VISA | 0 |______| .
H-2A? What kind of bait is that?
Art Credit: Below the Fold