A BuzzFeed News Investigation published today, The New American Slavery: Invited to the U.S. Foreign Workers Find a Nightmare, details many of the abuses experienced by workers in the H-2A and H-2B visa program. One of the H-2 workers profiled by BuzzFeed put it simply:
We live where we work and we can’t leave. We are tied to the company. Our visas are in the company’s name. If the pay and working conditions aren’t as we wish, who can we complain to? We are like modern-day slaves.
This is certainly not the first report to highlight the problems with the two programs that allow U.S. employers to import foreign workers for unskilled labor– in March of this year the Government Accountability Office released a lengthy report about the problems with both visa programs and calling for increased protections for the workers. But it comes at a time when employers who have built their business models around employing cheap foreign labor are using all of their political power to try to weaken workers protections and oversight of the programs. A bill pushed by H-2B employers and approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee last month would eliminate long overdue protections which were finally published by USDOL and USDHS in April and which took effect immediately.
The BuzzFeed story is long and its not exactly light Friday afternoon reading, but it’s worth the time. H-2A and H-2B workers are never going to be able to lobby Congress the same way their employers have been. But maybe as more reports like this one are published and more people learn about this modern program that the workers describe as slavery, Congress will have to start paying attention to the workers’ voice too.