Hoping to ensure fair pay for foreign workers while persuading American companies to hire at home first, the Department of Labor aimed to mandate prevailing wages for people working in America on H-2B visas.
But Federal lawmakers apparently do not share DOL’s enthusiasm for fairness and patriotism considering they have once again blocked reform.
H-2B Visas are often issued to foreign non-agricultural workers who gain employment in the United States. The visas are reserved for companies who cannot find American workers to fill their openings. Over the past decade, though, these visas have been abused by companies looking to lower labor costs, a practice which hurts qualified American workers. The foreign workers can only work at the company to which the Visa has been issued and thus often underpaid or overworked by the company in question because they have limited mobility.
The Southern Poverty Law Center issued a statement criticizing Congressional blockage of H-2B reforms:
Congress should take a stand for these workers rather than support the systemic and chronic underpayment that is encouraged by the old rule,” said Mary Bauer, the SPLC’s legal director, in a statement.
So far federal courts have been split on the implementation of the rule.
A U.S. District Judge in Florida last April issued a temporary injunction blocking implementation of the rule; a U.S. District Judge in Pennsylvania upheld it last August.
H-2B Visa abuse is a growing problem in the United States. After coming over from India to help aide the Hurricane Katrina recovery, many Indian workers living here on H-2B visas began to feel the exploitation that comes along with an H-2B visa. In 2008, several organized to publicize the widespread abuse which they alleged included human trafficking and forced labor.
Shortly after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, hundreds of Indian welders and fitters were trafficked to the Gulf Coast. For a hefty fee of $20,000, the recruiters promised the workers good jobs, permanent residency, and a chance to bring their families to the US. Workers sold their homes, took high-interest loans, and plunged their families into debt to pay for the American Dream.
When they arrived they discovered that all of the promises that had been made to them were false. They learned that in fact, there were no green cards for them. They would not receive permanent status, and there would be no provisions to bring their family members to the United States.
Surely this was better than the way they had lived in India they were told, but many of the workers had worked in several countries and the accommodations here were the worst of all.
When these workers decided that they needed to organize for more humane treatment and to demand that the company make good on the promises made to them the company responded by sending armed guards into the labor camps, pulling the organizers out of bed, holding them captive for six hours. The pressure of being deported back to India with a $20,000 debt waiting at home drove one of the organizers to attempt suicide.
This past Labor day, Equal Justice at Work shed light on the situation facing many H-2B workers:
Today, there are workers across the country who are victims of unfair practices, from discrimination to unpaid wages. For most of these workers, legal representation is unimaginable. In this newsletter, we are highlighting two of our Fellows who are working to protect the rights of workers in Florida and California.
Equal Justice Works Fellow Vanessa Coe is fighting on behalf of immigrant workers in Florida who are illegally paid less than minimum wage, forced to work excessive overtime, and charged high housing rent, essentially creating indentured servitude. These workers, most of whom are legally in the U.S. on H2B or J-1 visas, are particularly vulnerable because employers threaten them with deportation if they complain.
Earlier this year, Senators were able to squash H-2B reform in the interest of the seafood industry.