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Human rights of migrants and their families must be a priority in a North American vision of migration

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.

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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, mariap@cdmigrante.org, or visit migrationthatworks.org.


  1. Ripe for Reform. Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Inc., 2020
  2. Exploitation and Trafficking of Agricultural Workers During the Pandemic A Snapshot: June 2021. Polaris Project, 2021.
  3. Daniel Costa. Wages are still too low in H-2B occupations. Economic Policy Institute, March 18, 2021.
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Joint comment on USCIS’s newly proposed I-129H2A and I-129H2B forms for Nonimmigrant workers.

Dear Chief Deshommes:

We, the Migration that Works coalition and other worker advocate organizations, submit this joint comment in response to the invitation for comments on the proposed Form I-129H2A, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker: H-2A Classification, and Form I-129H2B, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker: H-2B Classification. 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. Migration that Works’ members serve hundreds of thousands of H-2B temporary nonagricultural workers and H-2A temporary agricultural workers in the U.S. and in their countries of origin. 

We are pleased with the proposal of the new I-129H2A and I-129H2B forms and view the changes from the current I-129 and H Classification Supplement as a first step in addressing broader flaws in the government’s approach to immigrant and nonimmigrant workers. We also welcome this opportunity by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to offer further recommendations and revisions to the forms. 

Previously, on May 19, 2021, Migration that Works member organizations—Farmworker Justice, Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Inc., and Justice in Motion—and other farmworker advocates responded to a call for comments on barriers to agency services (hereinafter the “May 19th Comment”). These advocates urged DHS and USCIS to give temporary visa beneficiaries information about whether an I-129 extension pertaining to them has been submitted, approved, or denied. On June 1, 2021, Farmworker Justice again joined other Migration that Works’ members—Justice in Motion, Justice at Work, Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Polaris, and others—in submitting comments on the I-129 form as it related to “Extension, Without Change, of a Currently Approved Collection: Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker” (hereinafter the “June 1st Comment”). Those comments are also annexed below. 

In its current request for comments, DHS and USCIS call for input about “whether the proposed collection of information is necessary for the proper performance of the functions of the agency, including whether the information will have practical utility;” as well as suggestions that would “[e]nhance the quality, utility, and clarity of the information to be collected.” 

The recommendations below would provide clarity to employers about the obligations that they undertake by signing the petition and the rights of the workers whom they hire. Our suggested revisions to the data collection also help strengthen the functions of the agency by increasing transparency for beneficiaries and advocates and compliance with the H-2 programs by employers. 

Due to the similarities among the fields, sections, language, and questions of the proposed forms, this comment will address both I-129H2A and I-129H2B forms simultaneously, focusing on the following:

  • Notice for beneficiaries about case status
  • Consenting of petitioners to right of access 
  • Transparency, data needs, and digitalization 
  • Recruitment fees and petitioner obligations

Recommendation 1: Insert language to allow beneficiaries to access information about the status of an I-129H2A or I-129H2B petition

USCIS currently limits access to case status information and notice to the petitioning employer only. This practice impedes transparency for workers, who have no avenue to receive direct automatic notice of petition developments and no independent right of access to information about their own case status.  Particularly in cases where workers need information about their extension status, this lack of transparency heightens migrant workers’ vulnerabilities to abuse and labor violations.  The May 19th and June 1st Comments provided examples of how a worker’s lack of access to their case status can have devastating impacts on their lives and the lives of their families.

We recommend that USCIS require petitioners to consent to USCIS and DHS providing automatic notice to named beneficiaries of all relevant Form I-129H2A and Form I-129H2B case status information. This includes at least: (1) whether the I-129H2A and I-129H2B forms were submitted, (2) whether they as workers were named as beneficiaries, and (3) whether petitioners requested an extension or change of employer. 

The following language should be incorporated into Part 7, Petitioner or Authorized Signatories’ Certification in both forms: 

  • The petitioner acknowledges that DHS may provide information related to the status of this petition to the [H-2A/H-2B ]workers named within and waives all, if any, privacy rights related to case status, approval, petitioner name, company or organization name, associated recruiter, beneficiary name, and information about the proposed employment and employer as it pertains to this form notification. If a petition for a visa extension is approved, the petitioner agrees to provide each worker beneficiary with any updated I-94 as soon as practicable after the petitioner receives it.

DHS’s practice of withholding this information from beneficiaries is not mandated by any statute or regulation. As our members have previously noted, USCIS’s own privacy policy guidance and policy manual further support the conclusion that sharing this information with worker beneficiaries would better comport with the agency’s principles.

In the May 19th Comment, Farmworker Justice and signatories note that “[d]isclosing basic information about the status of an I-129 petition would also be in accordance with DHS privacy principles. The Department’s policy is to treat ‘all persons, regardless of  immigration status, consistent with the Fair Information Practice Principles (FIPPs).’ Among the FIPPs is the principle of Individual Participation, which provides that ‘DHS should involve  persons in the process of using their personal information, and they may always request  information about themselves[.]’” To comply with this principle, DHS should correct its current practice of denying worker beneficiaries access to information about their own case status.

Workers and representatives should have access to an appropriate forum in which they can inquire whether they have active pending cases where they are named beneficiaries and the status of their petition. Given the significant limitations involved in sending notice to H-2 workers about case status updates via mail to their U.S. address, which is usually employer-controlled and transitory, the agency should also make case status information readily available in response to inquiries by workers and their representatives. 

In order to best serve this population, the agency should permit and encourage workers to make these inquiries through the channels and platforms that are most accessible to them. In addition to a traditional web portal tool, our extensive experience serving H-2 workers has demonstrated that a telephone hotline as well as a WhatsApp and/or Messenger chat line would best allow workers with limited computer access to reach out to the agency with case status and other inquiries.

Recommendation 2: Require employers to grant right of access to worksites as part of the form approval process

Guestworkers in the H-2 program often live in isolated areas with little access to transportation, making it difficult for them to access healthcare and legal and other service providers except by receiving visits to their worksites or employer-owned or employer-facilitated housing. During the pandemic, workers’ isolation has exacerbated their vulnerabilities. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid, employers have denied health departments and community health workers, as well as worker organizations, access to migrant workers who would benefit from their services, including vaccination and rights information. The situation of internationally recruited H-2 workers is not addressed by the Cedar Point case, and governments and courts have recognized migrant workers’ rights to access information and services provided by advocates, government officials and service providers at worksites and labor camps. Given the benefit afforded to petitioners, combined with vulnerabilities of the beneficiary population, requiring employers to consent to visits may help ensure that migrant workers’ rights to access information and services are better protected.

To ensure the protection of migrant workers’ rights, we recommend amending the proposed first sentence in Part 6, Item 15 of Form I-129H2A and Part 7, Item 14 of Form I-129H2B to read as follows:

  • The [H-2A/H-2B] petitioner requesting this benefit and each employer consent to allow government agencies and nongovernmental organizations access to H-2 housing and the sites where the labor is being performed for the purpose of determining compliance with [H-2A/H-2B] requirements and otherwise addressing the well-being, safety, and health of the beneficiaries of this petition and workers in corresponding employment.

Given the prevalence of abuse at isolated H-2 worksites and housing, the federal government’s interest in enforcing the program’s rules would be well served by clarifying workers’ right to receive visits from advocates, service providers, and state and local government officials. The agency should require petitioners to acknowledge that they will permit these visits as a condition of hiring workers through the H-2 program. 

Recommendation 3: Make Form I-129H2A and Form I-129H2B data readily accessible to advocates and workers

As USCIS updates the I-129 forms, the systems it implements to process the new information collected should ensure that the maximum amount of data can be made public in a timely fashion. The proposed form collects important information, such as more detailed data on recruitment agents and the companies associated with H-2A worksites, that should be made available to the public. 

As many fields as possible should be available online and in languages accessible to workers. At a minimum, DHS should digitize the following fields and make them readily available at a centralized, easy-to-access digital location in languages accessible to workers and advocates:

Information TypeI-129H2AI-129H2B
Petitioner Name, Organization, Address Part 1: Items 1, 3, 4, 6Part 1: Items 1, 3, 4, 6
Beneficiary Nationality and Gender (where named)Part 3: Items 1, 7, 14Part 3: Items 2, 8, 15
Processing Consulate and Petitioner Debarment HistoryPart 4: Items 1, 15Part 5: Items 1, 15
Job Title, ETA Case Number, Nature of Employment, Job Worksites (and associated organizations), Wages, and Dates of EmploymentPart 5: Items 1-4, 6-8, 14, 16Part 6: Items 1-3, 8-10, 14, 16
Recruiter InformationPart 6: Items 1-4Part 7: Items 1-3

Recommendation 4: Keep “Certification Regarding Prohibited Fees” and promote effective enforcement

We are encouraged by the proposed addition of language requiring petitioners to attest to understanding that worker fees are prohibited; to attest to understanding that employers are liable for any fees unlawfully charged to workers; and to affirm that all recruiters and third-party agents have been disclosed. These attestations are important and vital additions to the forms as they clarify and strengthen language from the current H Classification Supplement, and they must be retained for the final form.

Workers on temporary work visas who arrive indebted to the workplace are more likely to remain in abusive workplace conditions and suffer from economic coercion. Recruitment itself is often a convoluted process, and fraud, debt, and coercion in recruitment lie at the root of much of the abuse experienced by workers once at their worksites in the United States.

For instance, in 2020, Migration that Works chair organization Centro de los Derechos del Migrante surveyed 100 recent and current H-2A migrant workers who worked all over the United States and found that more than a fourth of them had paid recruitment fees. Similarly, a report on the H-2B seafood industry in Maryland found that H-2B migrant worker women had ceased paying fees, but recruiters had found ways to ensnare workers into paying hefty sums for other products at the time of recruitment. 

As the H-2A program continues to grow and the Administration undertakes efforts to expand both H-2 programs in Central America, it is even more important to create and enforce strong recruitment protections in these programs. We support adding this language, and we urge the agency to enforce the penalties it describes, including denying future applications from petitioning employers who either directly, or through their recruiters, require workers to pay fees. 

Conclusion

We acknowledge and appreciate the interest DHS has demonstrated in deterring abuses and increasing compliance in the H-2 guestworker programs. Our suggestions align with the agency’s priorities, and incorporating them will strengthen the I-129H2A and I-129H2B forms by improving employers’ compliance and protecting workers from bad-faith employers’ abuse of the H-2 visa programs. 

We thank you for considering our comments and urge you to incorporate them into the final forms.   

Sincerely,

Migration that Works

With the support of the following organizations: Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, Texas RioGrande Legal Assistance, UFW Foundation

  1.  See Reyes-Trujillo v. Four Star Greenhouse, Inc., 513 F. Supp. 3d 761 (E.D. Mich. 2021) (demonstrating how bad-faith employers can exploit this information gap to take advantage of H-2A workers).
  2.  594 U.S. ___, 141 S.Ct. 2063 (2021).
  3. See Migration that Works, The American Dream Up for Sale: A Blueprint for Ending International Labor Recruitment Abuse (2013), at https://migrationthatworks.files.wordpress.com/2020/01/the-american-dream-up-for-sale-a-blueprint-for-ending-international-labor-recruitment-abuse1.pdf.
  4. Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Ripe for Reform: Abuse of Agricultural Workers in the H-2A Visa Program 21 (2020), at https://cdmigrante.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Ripe-for-Reform.pdf.
  5. Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Breaking the Shell: How Maryland’s Migrant Crab Pickers Continue to Be “Picked Apart” at 9 (2020), at https://cdmigrante.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Breaking-The-Shell.pdf.
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Statement Regarding the Inhumane Treatment of Haitian Migrants at the US Border

Migration that Works decries the vile, inhumane treatment of Haitian migrant families and asylum-seekers at the US Border. The horrific violence perpetrated by the US Border Patrol in Del Río, Texas towards primarily Black Haitian migrants searching for refuge and security is unconscionable and unforgivable. This treatment is reminiscent of the footprint of slavery in the US, and the Biden Administration’s treatment of Haitian migrants is a reminder of the systemic racism and anti-Blackness that viciously pervade US institutions.

Haitian migrants need humanitarian aid and support at the border, not unlawful expulsions back to a country in crisis. The Biden Administration’s continued use of Trump-era Title 42 as justification for continued mass deportation of asylum seekers is not only cruel, but also contrary to the United States’ obligations under international law.

We, as a coalition of labor, migration, civil rights, and anti-trafficking organizations that advocate for a value-based approach to migration, urge President Biden to put an end to the brutal behavior toward the Haitian migrants at our border and to prioritize a human rights perspective in all its immigration policies. We stand in solidarity with those affected by these backward policies and demand the Biden Administration immediately stop deportations and unlawful detentions of Haitian migrants and their families.

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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, mariap@cdmigrante.org, or visit migrationthatworks.org.

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Open Letter to FIFA

When the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) unveiled the location of the 2026 World Cup, sports fans across North America naturally rejoiced. For the first time, the most-watched tournament in the world would be hosted by three countries: Mexico, the US and Canada. And this time, advocates had a reason to be enthusiastic, too—FIFA would require host nations and cities to submit a human rights plan as part of its selection criteria. This new policy signaled FIFA’s commitment to creating the infrastructure to address human rights abuses and to protect workers, following the highly-publicized, atrocious working conditions faced by guestworkers in the years leading up to the Qatar 2022 World Cup.

Now, as FIFA begins visiting cities to select the 2026 hosts, it faces its first real test. Is FIFA’s commitment to human rights real? Or was it just words?

Throughout the past year, Migration that Works—a coalition of dozens of anti-trafficking organizations, labor unions, civil rights groups, and academics—has mobilized to prevent a repeat of Qatar. We drafted model human rights language for host cities, held a human rights briefing for applicant host cities, participated in city boards and stakeholder groups, and mobilized workers into action—all with one goal: to ensure that this World Cup respects workers’ rights.

But as FIFA wraps up its US city selection process, touring nine candidate cities in nine days, including Washington, DC and Baltimore this weekend, civil society and workers are being shut out. According to an official press release, FIFA Vice President Victor Montagliani will join experts to evaluate cities on technical matters such as venue management, stadium and city infrastructure, and team facilities. Glaringly absent from the delegation are human rights experts who represent the interests of the workers directly tasked with maintaining venues, managing game service, and staffing ticket offices. Advocates need to see the cities’ human rights plans. But the cities we met with tell us that FIFA warned them not share those plans with stakeholders. Why?

If FIFA were serious about human rights, migrant workers and human rights stakeholders would be a part of the delegation evaluating host city candidates. Instead, FIFA has made its selection process opaque, undermining any intention or hope to uphold human rights in the World Cup. Rather than serving as a gatekeeper, and ignoring civil society requests for information, FIFA should be actively seeking to engage migrant workers and civil society throughout the selection process.

Low-income workers—immigrants, Black, Latinx, and AAPI—are the core foundation of a range of industries involved in the World Cup. They maintain the venue landscapes, service hotels where players and FIFA officials will stay, work at restaurants, and clean the stadiums.

Our members jointly have decades of experience documenting labor violations and representing migrant workers across sectors. The structure of temporary labor migration programs in the United States restricts workers’ freedom to move and access justice and basic services. One doesn’t need to look beyond this flawed structure to see that, without comprehensive human rights plans or worker engagement, World Cup history will repeat itself, harming workers and worsening working conditions across the region.

If FIFA is serious about uplifting human rights, the 2026 World Cup has the potential to welcome a new era of sports events, one that positively impacts all who are touched by the games. By meaningfully engaging workers and civil society, FIFA’s tournament could live in history not only as the most-watched event but as one that improves millions of people’s lives.

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Statement on “The Biden Administration Blueprint for a Fair, Orderly, and Humane Immigration System” and “Collaborative Migration Management Strategy” report

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.

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Letter of Opposition to Harmful H-2 Appropriation Riders

We fear that the appropriations process will once again be used to the
detriment of workers, whose risks have only intensified during the Covid-19 pandemic. In this letter, we strongly urge members of Congress to oppose any and all appropriation riders that will increase exploitation and further undermine fundamental rights for migrant workers and workers in the U.S.

Read the full letter here or download below.

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Statement on President Biden’s Immigration Plan

January 22, 2021

Migration that Works applauds the Biden-Harris administration for its bold immigration plan that would grant a pathway to citizenship to millions of undocumented individuals, including DACA recipients, TPS holders, and immigrant farmworkers. We also celebrate the end of the Muslim travel ban and a commitment to advance racial equity signaled through Day 1 executive orders.

Since 2011, Migration that Works has advocated for strong worker protections in the U.S. temporary work visa programs, including  the H-2A, H-2B, H-1B, J-1, and TN visa categories. Many of those workers, sadly, find themselves in abusive worksites where their labor and employment rights are not respected and are repeatedly violated with impunity by employers that can exert a great deal of power over them due to the legal frameworks of work visa programs, most of which tie each worker and their immigration status to a single employer. Last month, our coalition met with the Biden-Harris Transition team, sharing our recommendations to advance policies and a labor migration model that respects and uplifts the experiences of hundreds of thousands of migrant workers who enter the U.S. every year. We are happy to see the Biden-Harris immigration plan include protections from retaliation for workers that would allow them to remain in the country to pursue legal avenues to seek redress and hold employers accountable for lawbreaking. 

Our coalition looks forward to working with the Biden-Harris Administration to ensure strong, enforceable protections are in place for the migrant and seasonal workers in the temporary work visa programs, to ensure that temporary work status is de-linked from employers, and to ensure the fair treatment and dignity of all workers, regardless of status.  

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. We envision a value-based model for labor migration that prioritizes the human rights of workers and their families, elevating labor standards for all workers.

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The Biden-Harris Administration Should Ensure Protections for Migrant Workers

As the COVID-19 pandemic worsens across the country and millions of families remain at home to keep safe, essential workers continue to risk their lives in every sector of the economy. Despite their sacrifice, workers on the front lines have often been denied basic protections. In one particularly stark example, Maribel and Reyna, two crawfish workers in Louisiana, watched as dozens of their coworkers fell sick with COVID-19. Despite the outbreak, their employers failed to provide them with masks and instead forced them to continue working and living in crowded, dangerous conditions. When two workers became sick and sought medical attention, their employer fired them and reported them to immigration authorities

For migrant workers, labor abuse didn’t start with the COVID-19 crisis. Rather, the pandemic has laid bare the ways in which our country’s temporary visa programs systematically risk the lives of hundreds of thousands of migrant workers who come to the United States every year. Workers are often recruited from their home countries with false promises. Instead, many discover hazardous working conditions, deplorable housing, and stolen wages. They are often unable to quit or return home because they are indebted to recruiters who charged them illegal fees in exchange for the promise of employment. Their visas and work authorization tie them to their employers, making it virtually impossible for them to find alternative employment. And with little government oversight or enforcement, unscrupulous employers are able to continue profiting from this exploitation. 

As the country reckons with the havoc wrought by the pandemic, the economic crisis, and four years of harmful government action, it must prioritize the needs of its most vulnerable workers. 

Migration that Works, a coalition of labor, migration, civil rights, anti-trafficking organizations and academics, has outlined how the new Biden-Harris administration can chart a new way forward in its transition plan, Comprehensive Recommendations for the Presidential Transition Team on Preventing Abuses of Internationally Recruited Workers

The MTW transition plan provides detailed recommendations for the Departments of Labor, Homeland Security, State, and Justice as well as the National Labor Relations Board and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. We call on the Biden-Harris administration to:

  • Implement realistic, worker-protective policies and practices to end recruiter fees. Recruiters–not workers–should face consequences when illegal fees are charged. 
  • Provide immigration relief and work authorization for whistleblowers. Labor laws can only be effectively enforced when workers know that they will not face retaliation for reporting workplace mistreatment.
  • Revive the interagency task force on international labor recruitment
  • Improve the transparency of temporary work visas by creating an accessible website with detailed information about visas, jobs, and recruiters.
  • Overhaul the visa programs so that each visa category has consistent regulations under a single framework.
  • Create an Office of International Labor Recruitment Certification and Oversight with the power to block program violators from accessing future visas. 
  • Improve employer accountability by requiring all who benefit from migrant labor agree to joint liability. 
  • Improve worker education and access to information by cooperating with governments in countries of origin to thwart misleading propaganda and by enhancing information provided during consular processing of temporary work visas.
  • Increase resources for enforcement so that unscrupulous employers and recruiters cannot continue profiting off of the mistreatment of migrant workers.
  • Expand labor and employment protections for migrant workers, particularly during the pandemic. 

These changes alone are only the beginning.

These changes alone are only the beginning. Legislative reforms— to end the current system of tied visas and including a pathway to citizenship for all temporary work visa holders—are also necessary. The Biden-Harris administration must reform our labor migration system to ensure all workers are treated with dignity and respect. 

Migration that Works would like to thank Georgetown University Law Center Federal Legislation Clinic Director Cori Alonso-Yoder and students Jocelyn Westray and Marquisha Johns for contributing to this transition plan. 

Click here to read our Transition Memo.

Social media toolkit about transition memo: here.

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USDA’s Cancellation of Farm Labor Survey will Result in Massive Wage Cuts

On September 30, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a notice cancelling the Farm Labor Survey (FLS) of agricultural employers. The FLS is one of the best sources of information on the wages of agricultural workers—and the Department of Labor (DOL) is required to use it to determine what is known as the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR), the main minimum wage that employers must pay to farmworkers employed through the H-2A agricultural guestworker program, as well as similarly situated U.S. workers. In the absence of  FLS results, DOL will lack the necessary information to adequately set the AEWR for 2021 and beyond. This will result in massive wage cuts for both U.S. farmworkers and farmworkers  recruited and employed through the H-2A program. Consequently, a reduction in H-2A guestworker wages risks expansion of the structural and systemic conditions for labor trafficking in U.S.agriculture. Wage cuts  may increase the financial burden of migrant guestworkers, many of whom are particularly vulnerable to debt bondage, a nonviolent method of coercion in labor trafficking.

Throughout the years we have seen a rapid expansion of the H-2A program. Over 250,000 H-2A jobs were certified in FY 2019 and the program is on track to surpass that in FY 2020.

Rather than giving the farmworkers the Trump administration has deemed “essential” a raise in 2021, Trump has opted to give them a pay cut instead, while giving yet another subsidy to the farm industry in the form of lower labor costs—on top of the $32 billion in federal subsidies the industry has already received in 2020—and during a year in which farm employers increased their net income by 23%.

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) for decades has prohibited employers from hiring guestworkers at wage rates that would “adversely affect” the wages and working conditions of U.S. farmworkers, which is implemented through the AEWR. This is an important protection for both domestic farmworkers and migrant guestworkers that helps keep farm employers from manipulating the immigration system in order to cut labor costs and degrade standards for all.

Migration that Works objects to  this sudden and abrupt cancellation of the FLS and sees this action from the Trump Administration as creating an incentive to exploit an already-vulnerable workforce. The H-2A program is rife with abuse, ranging from wage theft to labor trafficking. In a survey done among H-2A workers, only 43% of the respondents indicated that they had been paid all of the wages they were owed. This action from the Trump administration signals a move towards further weakening the very few labor protections available to farmworkers. It will have a significant impact on farmworkers’ income, which is already precarious, and make them even more vulnerable to economic insecurity and labor trafficking.

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.

Throughout the years we have seen a rapid expansion of the H-2A program. Over 250,000 H-2A jobs were certified in FY 2019 and the program is on track to surpass that in FY 2020.

Rather than giving the farmworkers the Trump administration has deemed “essential” a raise in 2021, Trump has opted to give them a pay cut instead, while giving yet another subsidy to the farm industry in the form of lower labor costs—on top of the $32 billion in federal subsidies the industry has already received in 2020—and during a year in which farm employers increased their net income by 23%.

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) for decades has prohibited employers from hiring guestworkers at wage rates that would “adversely affect” the wages and working conditions of U.S. farmworkers, which is implemented through the AEWR. This is an important protection for both domestic farmworkers and migrant guestworkers that helps keep farm employers from manipulating the immigration system in order to cut labor costs and degrade standards for all.

Migration that Works objects to  this sudden and abrupt cancellation of the FLS and sees this action from the Trump Administration as creating an incentive to exploit an already-vulnerable workforce. The H-2A program is rife with abuse, ranging from wage theft to labor trafficking. In a survey done among H-2A workers, only 43% of the respondents indicated that they had been paid all of the wages they were owed. This action from the Trump administration signals a move towards further weakening the very few labor protections available to farmworkers. It will have a significant impact on farmworkers’ income, which is already precarious, and make them even more vulnerable to economic insecurity and labor trafficking.

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.

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The Senate must protect migrant workers during the pandemic

Today, we are writing to the U.S. Senate urging policymakers to protect the more than one and a half million workers employed in the United States through temporary foreign work visas in any future legislation related to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead of enhancing desperately needed protections for temporary foreign workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, recent actions by the administration threaten to increase their exploitation and vulnerability to trafficking. As the Senate considers additional legislation to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impacts, we are seeking for specific measures to be included to protect the health, safety, and economic security of these essential workers.

Read our full letter to the Senate here and download below.

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Our letter regarding the latest temporary rule changes to the H-2 programs

Last week, we wrote to the U.S. Department of State, Labor, and Homeland Security to express our concern regarding the implications of recent temporary rule changes to the H-2A and H-2B (“H-2”) visa programs. Although these rules intend to protect the U.S. food supply chain, we believe that – without clarification and modifications – they threaten to increase the exploitation and vulnerability to trafficking for the temporary guestworkers critical to the continued operation of this country’s food supply chain.

Read the full letter here or download below.

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2020 TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS REPORT FAILS TO RECOGNIZE EXTENT OF WIDESPREAD ABUSES IN U.S. GUESTWORKER PROGRAMS

2020 TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS REPORT FAILS TO RECOGNIZE EXTENT OF WIDESPREAD ABUSES IN U.S. GUESTWORKER PROGRAMS

On June 16, the U.S. Department of State released its 20th annual Trafficking in Persons Report. Migration that Works, 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 – issued the following statement in response:

We are disappointed to see that the U.S. has once again given itself a top grade when it comes to efforts to fight human trafficking. As a diverse coalition of advocates and service providers working directly with survivors of human trafficking in multiple sectors of the labor force, we know firsthand that this grade has not been earned. In particular, we believe the U.S. has a tremendous amount of work to do to address vulnerability to labor trafficking in its guestworker programs. 

Rachel Micah-Jones, executive director of Centro de los Derechos del Migrante (CDM) which chairs Migration that Works, said she and her staff were surprised to see that the U.S. maintained its Tier 1 ranking in the TIP report. “The U.S. should have been downgraded. As an organization that supports migrant worker advocacy, CDM has filed two trafficking lawsuits with internationally recruited workers in the last week alone.” 

Two hallmarks of these programs, worker indebtedness through the recruitment process and unbreakable ties to a specific employer, virtually guarantee that workers cannot safely speak out against abuse for fear of deportation. U.S. government asylum policies, mass detention of immigrants in recent years, including separation of families, and immigration policy response to COVID-19 have exacerbated immigrant workers’ vulnerability and created a climate of fear that fundamentally erodes U.S. efforts to address human trafficking. 

Although the TIP report is used primarily as a tool of diplomacy to “name and shame” countries into improving trafficking prevention and response efforts, the report nonetheless serves as an indicator about how seriously the U.S. takes trafficking in its own backyard. By giving itself a Tier 1 rating, the U.S. government continues to demonstrate apathy toward meaningful improvements of conditions for immigrant workers who provide essential contributions to the U.S. economy. We believe that to truly earn a Tier 1 rating, the U.S. must reimagine its guestworker programs so they uphold fundamental rights to freedom of movement, freedom from economic coercion and intimidation, and access to justice. 

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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. We envision a value-based model for labor migration that prioritizes the human rights of workers and their families, elevating labor standards for all workers.

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Statement on Trump Administration Executive Order Restricting Worker Visas

Migration that Works, a coalition of labor, academics, migrant rights and anti-human trafficking organizations formed in 2011, denounces the Administration’s latest immigration order as another tactic to divert attention from its dismal response to the COVID-19 crisis, which has left more than 120,000 people in the U.S. dead. Instead of focusing on taking concrete actions to protect all workers, this Administration relies, once again, upon furthering a nativist agenda in an effort to divide workers. 

We are seeing a rising number of workers dying and being infected with coronavirus on the job. Thousands of workers are falling ill to the coronavirus in unsafe and dangerous work sites throughout the country. These workers are not provided with personal protective equipment; paid sick leave; and, they face retaliatory action if they raise a complaint about their work conditions. Yet, there is no action from the agency that is supposed to be workers’ health and safety watchdog – OSHA. 

Missing in this order is anything that reforms the problematic guestworker programs. International workers experience abusive recruitment processes in which they are often charged exorbitant amounts of money. This Order does not indicate what steps the Administration will take to address workers that have already incurred significant expenses in pursuing guestworker visas. Applicants often take out loans or put property up for collateral in order to pay several thousand dollars in fees in order to secure a visa. This is a long process that with this announcement leaves them in the dark. Unknown is whether the recruiters and sponsor agencies involved will reimburse these workers for unused fees. 

Instead of nativist and xenophobic bans, we need protections for all workers now.

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Migration That Works will not be silent

“There comes a time when silence is betrayal.”Martin Luther King Jr.

Migration That Works will not be silent

Migration That Works stands in solidarity with the Black community as they demand justice for the murders of  George Floyd, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and many other victims of police brutality. The Minneapolis police officer’s knee on George Floyd’s neck that resulted in his brutal murder is both a physical manifestation and symbol of the physical and structural racism that is persistent and pervasive in every aspect of Black lives in the United States. This racial violence results from historic, systemic injustices like slavery and lynchings committed with impunity–as well as state-sponsored and state-sanctioned violence, which have been tools utilized to maintain the status quo of white supremacy over public policy and civic life. We cannot be silent. We demand justice. We demand change.

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. We envision a value-based model for labor migration that prioritizes the human rights of workers and their families, elevating labor standards for all workers.

As a coalition, we acknowledge that this is a common fight for dignity, equality, and freedom.  We commit to taking the following steps: 

  1. Uplift Black Migrant voices in the demand for justice and speak out against racist policies and practices that exclude or devalue them.
  2. Seek to form long term collaborations with Black migrant coalitions.


These commitments serve as a foundation for a long-term road map for Migration that Works. Above all, we will leverage our platform, and amplify the voices of those most affected to combat the racial injustice that pervades our country.

Black Lives Matter.

Spotlight on Black-led organizations leading efforts on the ground in MN: Black Visions Collective

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Migration that Works During Pandemics- Our Letter to Washington

As migrant worker communities continue to live through and face the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, we write this letter seeking protections for the more than one and a half million workers who are employed in in the United States through a multitude of temporary visas. We urge and ask federal policymakers to consider workers in temporary visas in any future legislation related to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and national emergency, including relief packages and economic stimulus.

We must act now.

During a national crisis we must all pull together and ensure that every resident is safe and healthy and has the freedom to take the appropriate measures necessary to physically distance themselves from others. Immigration status should not be a determinant of who can access relief measures like access to testing, unemployment insurance, and paid leave.

Read our letter here.