January 24, 2022
The Biden-Harris Administration has a crucial opportunity to marshal the federal government’s resources and deploy its agencies to more effectively combat human trafficking—a devastating problem that the pandemic has exacerbated. As we observe Human Trafficking Prevention Month, the time is now for a robust, worker-centered strategy to end human trafficking, and particularly forced labor and debt bondage. Last month, the Administration published an updated National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking (“Plan”). While Migration that Works commends the Administration for using gender and racial equity lenses and addressing migrant workers in its Plan—vital perspectives missing from the last administration’s version of the Plan—its proposed strategies to protect migrant workers fall woefully short.
The Administration’s priority actions for protecting migrant workers from human trafficking focus on expanding the H-2 temporary work visa programs. This approach is as dangerous as it is wrong. For decades, lax federal oversight of the poorly regulated H-2 temporary work visa programs has enabled widespread labor abuses—too often leading to human trafficking. Expanding the H-2 programs without first implementing enforceable reforms to protect workers will enable human trafficking rather than eradicating it. This approach also ignores the reality of asylum seekers from the Northern Triangle and Haiti—places the Administration has recently prioritized for H-2 visas—who seek safety and permanency in the United States, not temporary work visas.