MTW’s letter of support for California’s AB 364

Dear Governor Newsom, 

On behalf of Migration that Works, we write to urge you to sign AB 364 (Rodriguez). Since our founding in 2011, Migration that Works (formerly known as the “International Labor Recruitment Working Group” or “ILRWG” for short) has documented widespread abuse and systemic flaws in recruitment for U.S. work visa programs, including fraud, discrimination, and economic coercion.1 AB 364 would prevent many of these abuses—protecting workers and preventing human trafficking—by regulating international labor recruiters who recruit for jobs in California. And it would protect law-abiding employers that use registered recruiters. With your leadership, California will protect more than 300,000 internationally recruited migrant workers and establish a model for ethical labor recruitment that other states can follow. 

Widespread abuses harm workers in international labor recruitment and U.S. temporary work visa programs because of the programs’ central structural flaws and a lack of regulation and oversight. The abuses perpetrated by unscrupulous international labor recruiters on temporary workers coming to work in California are legion. They include the following. 

  • Charging Workers for the Right to Work. No one should ever have to pay to get a job. But international labor recruiters routinely charge workers for jobs in the United States in the form of recruitment, transportation and visa fees, among others. These abusive fee practices cause many workers to take on debt, making them vulnerable to workplace abuses, including human trafficking. And too often, international labor recruiters defraud workers, enticing them to pay fees for jobs that do not exist.
  • Misrepresenting Employment Terms. All workers deserve to have a written contract that respects their rights in a language they can understand. A contract helps ensure that workers can make informed decisions about applying for jobs in the United States. Without written contracts, many international labor recruiters orally promise favorable employment terms and when workers arrive in the United States, their employers deliver an entirely different reality. 
  • Discrimination. Many international labor recruiters use job advertisements and recruitment tactics that exclude workers based on gender, sex, age, race, and other protected characteristics. Without international labor recruiter oversight and accountability, U.S. employers avoid liability for discrimination in recruitment, undermining U.S. discrimination laws. 
  • Retaliation. Migrant workers’ visas bind them to their employers. If they leave their job—or lose their job—most workers also lose their immigration status and authorization to work in the United States. For their part, international labor recruiters often control workers’ access to jobs. Some retaliate against workers who try to enforce their rights by refusing to contract them for future work. These structural flaws mean that the stakes are high when migrant workers complain about recruitment and workplace abuses. They risk losing their work authorization, visa, status in the United States, and future recruitment opportunities. 
  • Human Trafficking. Too many migrant workers have become victims of human trafficking as a result of these structural flaws in the programs. Indeed, Polaris Project—a Migration that Works member organization that operates the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline—reports that more “[t]he majority of [trafficking] victims across temporary work visa categories — 59 percent — reported threats of immigration used to control them and keep them working against their will.”2 
  • Abuses are exacerbated due to COVID-19. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, National Human Trafficking Hotline data showed a more than 70% increase in reported labor trafficking victims who held H-2A visas. 
  • Abuses harm workers across visa categories, professions, and industry sectors. International labor recruitment abuses harm workers in key California industries, including technology, agriculture, and care work. And despite differences in workers’ educational backgrounds and jobs, abuses harm workers across visa programs, including the H-1B, H-2A, H-2B, L-1, O, P, and TN programs. Most workers obtain jobs in these programs through international labor recruiters. And failing to regulate international labor recruitment has enabled bad-actor recruiters to thrive, harming workers and law-abiding employers. 

Despite these well-documented flaws, Congress has, so far, failed to act. While the U.S. Senate passed S.744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, in 2013—a bill that included critical protections for workers in international labor recruitment3—the U.S. House never voted on that bill.

California led the way in filling the gap in federal oversight and protecting internationally recruited workers. In 2014, with broad, bipartisan support, California legislators passed SB 477. That bill sought to protect hundreds of thousands of workers in California across professions and visa categories by regulating international labor recruiters. (These recruiters are called foreign labor contractors in the bill.) The main provisions of the bill:

  • Require foreign labor contractors to register with the state and provide comprehensive disclosure of workers’ rights to them during the recruitment process or face penalties for non-compliance; 
  • Provide a safe harbor from liability for employers using registered FLRs; and
  • Establish a complaint mechanism for aggrieved workers to recover damages for violations of the statute.

But recruiters managed to weave a loophole into the 2014 legislation that excluded most workers from these critical protections: the law currently only protects nonagricultural workers with H-2B visas, just 3% of the more than 300,000 internationally recruited workers who now come to the state annually. 

To realize the promise of the 2014 legislation, AB 364 would clarify that California’s labor contractor registration system protects almost all internationally recruited migrant workers who are recruited to work in California—rather than only those with H-2B visas. By requiring international labor recruiters across visa categories and labor sectors to participate in the state’s registration system, the bill would help to end labor abuses and human trafficking in the H-1B, H-2A, L-1, O, P, and TN visa programs and protect more than 300,000 workers in those programs. 

AB 364 isn’t perfect. The bill excludes more than 10,000 workers from the J-1 visa program who work in California, including au pairs and hospitality workers, among others. But AB 364 is critical to ending widespread abuses in international labor recruitment for workers destined for California. As the fifth-largest economy in the world and the state where the most internationally recruited workers work, California is uniquely positioned to lead the nation in ending international labor recruitment abuse with AB 364. 

Migration that Works urges you to sign AB 364 into law, demonstrating the leadership Californians have come to expect from their Governors. With AB 364 made law, California will protect almost all internationally recruited workers who come to the state to work, serving as a model for the rest of the nation—and the world—in building a more ethical model of international labor recruitment. 

Sincerely, 

Migration that Works 

CC: Assemblymember Rodriguez

1 Migration that Works is a coalition of labor, migration, civil rights, and anti-trafficking organizations and academics working to address abuses in international labor recruitment. We are the first coordinated effort to strategically address worker rights abuses across industries and visa categories. For years, we have advocated for values- and rights-based reforms to the current patchwork of temporary work visa programs. For our latest reports on ending abuses in international labor recruitment and work visa programs, click here .

2 Polaris Project, “Labor Trafficking on Specific Temporary Work Visas: A Data Analysis 2018–2020” (2022),

3 Daniel Costa, “Future Flows and Worker Rights in S. 744A Guide to How the Senate Immigration Bill Would Modify Current Law,” Economic Policy Institute (Nov. 12, 2013).

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