UN Special Rapporteur offers sharp criticism of American temporary foreign worker programs
// Economic Policy Institute Blog
On December 19, one day after International Migrants' Day, Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, issued a statement regarding her official visit to the United States to assess the country's state of affairs on human trafficking. During her trip, Giammarinaro met with government officials, diplomats, trafficking survivors, and representatives from civil society. While she praised the United States for developing "an impressive number of laws and initiatives which focus on the protection of victims," especially the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act and its subsequent reauthorizations, she offered up sharp and insightful criticisms of the nonimmigrant visa programs that temporarily authorize migrants to work in the United States:
The legal framework governing temporary visas for migrant workers, especially H-2A visa for temporary or seasonal agricultural work and H-2B visa for temporary or seasonal non-agricultural work visas, is of particular concern as it exposes applicants to the risk of exploitation, including human trafficking. Workers holding these temporary visas are tied to a specific employer who can exercise extensive control over them. Employers often confiscate passports, withhold wages, terminate contracts arbitrarily and threaten employees with job loss and deportation. Some live in deplorable housing conditions, commute long distance and enjoy low benefits. This is a serious problem in itself, but it is exacerbated by the fact that concerned workers may fear that if they report abuses, they will be deported or denied future visa applications. This situation creates vulnerabilities to labour exploitation, such as unsafe working conditions and isolation, especially in rural areas where there are fewer service providers. In order to prevent further harm, it will be essential to amend the regulation governing these temporary visas, as well as to those of Exchange visitor (J-1) and domestic workers (G-5) visas, and make visa "portable" to allow workers to change abusive employers.
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