November 19, 2021
Yesterday, U.S. President Biden convened with Canada’s Prime Minister Trudeau and President López Obrador of Mexico, to discuss regional priorities, including migration. As a coalition of labor, migration, civil rights, anti-trafficking organizations and academics, we urge all three leaders to move away from “quick-fix” solutions and keep working towards a regional vision of migration that prioritizes the human rights of migrants and their families.
We continue to be alarmed by the growing consideration of temporary work visa programs, specifically the H-2A and H-2B visa programs as a way to address the asylum needs of migrant families from Central America. A year ago, the Center for Global Development made such a recommendation, and more recently, the Migration Policy Institute’s (MPI) brief entitled “Investing in Alternatives to Irregular Migration from Central America: Options to Expand U.S. Employment Pathways”, proposed the expansion of these programs as well.
Guestworker programs are not the answer to families fleeing economic and political insecurity, violence, and the effects of climate change. They do not provide easy solutions for resolving the root causes of migration, nor do they provide pathways to decent work for the migrants who seek them. The lack of effective oversight and the power imbalance between employers and workers embedded in its design increases the vulnerability of workers, thus facilitating exploitation and human trafficking.
According to a Centro de los Derechos del Migrante’s survey-led study, all of the 100 H-2A workers interviewed reported at least one serious violation of their rights, and 94% reported three or more violations1. From October 2018 through September 2020, almost all H-2A visa holders that contacted the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline reported fraudulent recruitment tactics that included false promises or job offer advertisements. Among this group,66% experienced excessive working hours, 63% had their basic needs withheld, and 61% experienced threats to report to immigration authorities as forms of fraud and coercion in their workplace2. In the case of the H-2B program, the Economic Policy Institute recently noted that the program’s wage regulations are allowing employers to legally undercut U.S. wage standards and underpay migrant workers3.
Expanding guestworker programs as part of a regional migration strategy for Central America is a misguided idea. It is a dangerous “quick-fix” proposal that not only exacerbates the vulnerability of migrants but also distracts from much-needed reforms to our labor migration system.
Meaningful proposals should reflect the perspectives and voices of migrant workers and asylum seekers. Migration from Central America should thus be addressed with a humane approach that provides equal rights, permanence and safety, not through an expansion of current guestworker programs that are structured to exploit. This will only further put entire communities at risk.
We invite our North American leaders, advocates, and experts to lay the groundwork for meaningful solutions that protect immigrant, migrant, and asylum-seeking communities. We can and must do better.
About Migration that Works
Migration that Works is a coalition of labor, migration, civil rights, anti-trafficking organizations and academics advancing a labor migration model that respects the human rights of workers, families and communities and reflects their voices and experiences. Founded in 2011 as the International Labor Recruitment Working Group (ILRWG), Migration that Works is the first coordinated effort to strategically address worker rights abuses across industries and visa categories. For more information, contact Mari Perales Sánchez, firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit migrationthatworks.org.
- Ripe for Reform. Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Inc., 2020
- Exploitation and Trafficking of Agricultural Workers During the Pandemic A Snapshot: June 2021. Polaris Project, 2021.
- Daniel Costa. Wages are still too low in H-2B occupations. Economic Policy Institute, March 18, 2021.