Justice in International Labor Recruitment

Labor contractors who recruit migrant workers for U.S. companies often engage in abusive practices.  In a study of over 220 workers on H-2 temporary visas, CDM found that more than 58 percent had paid recruitment fees.  In order to pay these high fees, workers often take out loans that make them even more vulnerable to exploitation.  In worst-case scenarios, unscrupulous employers and recruiters traffic workers into the U.S.  Regulation and oversight of foreign labor recruiters is much needed, as is a system to hold U.S. employers who utilize such recruiters jointly responsible for abuses.

WHAT THE SENATE BILL WOULD DO: The Senate Bill includes much needed reforms to address abuses in international labor recruitment.  The key measures to address recruitment abuse are a required set of disclosures given to workers, a prohibition on employers charging workers recruitment fees, a prohibition on discrimination in recruitment, a foreign labor contractor registry at the DHS and the State Department, extensive data gathering and data publication, and critical enforcement mechanisms.

The Bill would require that important information be disclosed to workers at the time of recruitment.  These disclosures are important so that workers know the terms and conditions of their employment and visa before leaving their homes for employment in the U.S.  The required disclosures include the following: the identity of the employer and the recruiter; the terms of employment; a copy of the signed contract; the type, length, and terms and conditions of the visa; any costs and expenses associated with the work; any training that will be provided or required; and worker’s compensation or insurance coverage in the event of injury or death, among others.

The Bill addresses the economic coercion of workers who pay recruiters high fees, often incurring debt with exorbitant interest rates in order to come to the U.S.  Specifically, the Bill prohibits employers, labor contractors, and agents from charging recruitment fees to workers and requires employers to reimburse all costs associated with their recruitment, including visa fees, processing fees, transportation fees, legal expenses, placement fees, and other costs to a worker for any foreign labor contracting activity.  The Bill also requires several disclosures related to fees.

The Bill provides some visa-specific worker protections.  With respect to the H-2B program, the Bill would require that employers pay transportation costs, including reasonable subsistence costs during travel, from the place of recruitment to the place of employment and from the place of employment to the place of permanent residence or the subsequent worksite.  The Bill would require that employers pay any fees related to hiring the worker and would prohibit deducting such fees from workers’ wages.  With respect to the newly created W visas, the Bill would also require that employers pay fees related to hiring workers but would not require that workers be reimbursed for travel and transportation costs.  The Bill is not comprehensive in its protections of H-2B workers and fails to provide other much-needed improvements to the H-2B program.