Last week, the Biden Administration published its Blueprint for a Fair, Orderly, and Humane Immigration System and the “Collaborative Migration Management Strategy” report, both of which included plans to expand access to Central America for the current H-2A and H-2B temporary work visa programs. At the same time, the Administration announced that it will resume the inhumane expedited removal of asylum-seeking families, and has yet to repeal the Title 42 policy, which directs immigration authorities to summarily expel migrants without providing them the opportunity to seek protection in the United States. These policies are a troubling continuation of the Trump Administration’s approach, prioritizing the expansion of exploitative temporary work visa programs over our government’s humanitarian responsibilities to asylum seekers and those with protection needs.
Migration That Works strongly opposes the Biden Administration’s expansion of current abusive guestworker programs: it represents a shallow and ineffective remedy to the Central American humanitarian crisis.
While the Administration states that it seeks to “expand third country labor migration programs while improving worker protections,” we know that exploitation and abuse of workers is built into the very structure of these programs. For years, we have documented how temporary work visa programs like the H-2A and H-2B visas create an acute imbalance of power by tying workers’ employment and immigration status to a single employer. Workers in these programs lack a pathway to permanent legal status and their labor mobility is restricted.
In June, Migration That Works’ Chair, Rachel Micah-Jones, Founder and Executive Director of Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, penned a commentary that was published ahead of the Vice President’s first international trip to Mexico. She warned about the dangers of giving into this seemingly “easy fix” that promotes precarious working conditions for vulnerable communities while failing to address the actual root causes of Central American migration. Micah-Jones rightly notes about the H-2 temporary visa programs:
“Abuses begin in international labor recruitment when companies lie about wages and working conditions. Or, recruiters charge fees for U.S. jobs that don’t exist. Employers and recruiters routinely discriminate against internationally recruited workers because of their race, age or gender, illegally hiring them into lower-paying positions or refusing to hire them at all. In the United States, employers often pay unlawfully low wages and send sick and injured workers home without compensation. If a worker dares to quit, their temporary visa typically expires, making it nearly impossible for them to switch employers or access justice.”The Trump administration slashed humanitarian migration pathways while simultaneously overseeing an increase in temporary work visa programs. By continuing key elements of this approach, the Biden Administration is not only creating but also augmenting vulnerability in the Central American region. We insist that the Biden Administration address Central American migration with a humane approach that provides permanence, safety, and solutions that reflect the needs, voices, and experiences of these communities over measures that merely heighten migrants’ precarity and vulnerability to abuses.