These stories are just a small sampling of workers on different visa types who were recruited to the United States on non-immigrant visas. Check back as we continue to gather real stories of people who were mistreated through unfair international labor recruitment practices.
Archiel Buagas: Nurse on a EB-3 Visa
When asked about her experience as a nurse recruited from the Philippines to work in the United States, she said, “I was so scared of going to work that before my shift, I would be crying, I’d be [vomiting] because of anxiety and nervousness. I would have diarrhea. . . . [T]he only thing that made me sleep was the fact that I was so tired . . . . I wanted to go home.” Archiel was one of a group of 27 Filipino nurses who resigned from their jobs in several nursing homes in New York State on April 26, 2006, citing unfair working conditions. Among the many complaints they lodged against their recruiters were problems with work permits, low pay, high patient load, and inadequate orientation. According to Archiel, problems began when she was still in the Philippines. “I wanted to get a copy of the contract, but they didn’t want it taken out or photocopied. So I just left it there. They said over time they would send us papers. We signed lots of papers and I just couldn’t keep track of what they were about.”
Although the nurses were told by the recruiter in the Philippines that if they didn’t feel comfortable their orientations would be extended, this was not the case for Buagas. “I was afraid to go to work, because I was afraid that I would do more harm than good to my patients,” she said. “I felt like I needed more orientation, but they wouldn’t give it because they needed people on the floor, to be there.”
Archiel also said that she and the other nurses she lived with were asked to work long hours and on their days off, often without adequate compensation for the overtime. She worked in a long-term care facility and cared for an average of 30 to 60 patients per shift, and sometimes as many as 100, working as the medication, treatment, and charge nurse all at the same time. “We were also regularly floated to units we were not [familiar with],” she said.
After leaving her job along with the other nurses, Archiel was out of work for three months before finally getting a job as a nurse in a city hospital psychiatric unit. She said she was scared on her first day, but when she noticed that the nurses actually took breaks, she went into the bathroom and cried.
Ingrid Cruz: Teacher on a H-1B Visa
Ingrid Cruz is one of more than 300 teachers recruited by a Filipino recruiting firm, PARS International Placement Agency, and its sister company, Los Angeles-based Universal Placement International, to teach in public schools in Louisiana. The teachers paid more than $16,000 each (approximately four times what they would earn in the Philippines annually) to obtain jobs in the United States. Things quickly deteriorated for the teachers once they landed at Los Angeles International Airport. After a wearying journey to the United States, the teachers were presented with a second recruitment contract that required 10 percent of both their first and second year salaries in fees, despite the fact that they had only been granted one year visas and they had already paid PARS 20 percent of their first year’s salary in cash before leaving the Philippines.
“On the first day we stepped foot in this country, I can still remember how hurtful it was to sign a one-sided contract under duress stipulating another round of placement fees, fees to be paid to the agency if we were fired, prohibitions of having other people review our contract, and other provisions favorable only to the agency. Anyone who tried to question the contract was threatened with being sent back home immediately. We were left with no choice but to sign,” Cruz said. Once in Louisiana, where their jobs were based, they learned that the recruiter had signed leases on their behalf, and without their consent, for shared apartments at a run-down apartment complex. The recruiter overcharged them rent, obtaining a hefty cut for herself. Teachers had to devote much of their salary to debt and rent payments—in some instances the loan payments ate up nearly all of their monthly paycheck. The recruiter also controlled the renewal of their visas and exacted heavy fees for those processing services.
Laurra Ferrer – J-1 Summer Work Travel Worker
Twenty-one year-old, Laura Ferrer, arrived to Maryland’s Ocean City the summer 2019 to work through the J-1 Summer Work Travel (SWT) program. It was her second year participating in the work program. Ferrer was excited about the opportunity to save money to take back home to the Dominican Republic, where she had asked for a loan to cover the exorbitant program fees. Upon arrival, she quickly realized this would be harder than she imagined.
Her first year in the United States, Ferrer had lived with seven other women, but for the 2019 season, she was packed into an old warehouse building with at least forty other J-1 SWT workers. “The house is my biggest regret. We had no windows. I had humidity in my room. And because of the amount of people, most of the common areas were dirty most of the time.”
Her work experience was equally as challenging. In order to repay her debt, Ferrer worked up to three jobs to make ends meet. She was initially assigned to an ice cream server position, but when she arrived, the job had already been taken. She worked as a hostess, playground attendant, and groceries stocker. “I work these three jobs because I don’t have full-time in any of them.”
As a participant in the program, she also faced various forms of discrimination. Ferrer recalls how employers assigned jobs based on race and nationality. “Most of the host and server jobs were given to those that fit the U.S. standards of beauty–straight blonde hair, blue eyes. I was lucky that I spoke English and was able to get a job as a server, but often that doesn’t matter as long as you look a certain way. They also assumed that because of my Dominican nationality, I would be more disorganized or less diligent. The truth is that we were very responsible — our own necessity [to make a living] forced us to. ”
Centro de los Derechos del Migrante (CDM) first met Ferrer at an Ocean City soup kitchen where local churches regularly serve meals for J-1 SWT workers. “I go to church [for food and meals] to save some money on groceries and food,” Laura shared. She has now returned to complete her studies in the Dominican Republic, where she’s pursuing a degree in architecture. She’s speaking out because she’s a firm believer it “can help create the changes we need to make the world better.”
Fernanda: Intern and Trainee on a J-1 Visa
Fernanda came to the United States from Ecuador in 2011 on a J-1 visa to work in the hospitality industry. She had recently graduated from college and was seeking a professional experience in the United States that would further her chosen career in hospitality management. She discovered the J-1 Intern and Trainee program through a brochure on her college campus. A local recruiter linked her to a State Department-designated sponsor for the J-1 program. The sponsor’s materials boasted that participants in the J-1 program would receive “the knowledge, practical training, leadership and multicultural skills” necessary to succeed as a hospitality industry leader. Eager to jump start her professional career, Fernanda invested nearly $4,500 to participate in the J-1 Intern and Trainee program, including paying $1,500 in fees to the Ecuadorian recruiter and the J-1 sponsor collectively. Before leaving for the United States, Fernanda received a signed, detailed training plan from her sponsor that guaranteed her advanced training in management, leadership, supervision, scheduling, and customer service.
Upon arrival to the United States, the J-1 sponsor placed Fernanda in the Food and Beverage department at a hotel in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. However, instead of encountering the professional and cultural experience the sponsor had promised, Fernanda spent the duration of her program performing unskilled labor for substandard wages. Her primary tasks were wiping down tables, mopping, polishing silverware, and sweeping. She never received any of the advanced training she was promised. She was paid with a $200 stipend every two weeks for performing at least forty hours of work per week – a wage well below the federal minimum wage. “When I arrived to the United States and started working, I felt tricked. I would have never invested so much money in the program had I known it was not going to be a training experience. But I had spent so much money to participate that I couldn’t just turn around and leave.”
Fernanda and some of her co-workers filed complaints with the State Department and the U.S. Department of Labor against the J-1 sponsor and the hotel. The Department of Labor collected back wages on Fernanda’s behalf for the minimum wage violations. “I’m happy I recuperated some of the money I lost, but I worry that my sponsor and other J-1 sponsors are continuing to recruit young people with false promises.”
Jayson De Guzman: Survivor of Trafficking
Jayson, a construction worker in the Philippines, was offered an opportunity to work in the United States by one of his employers. Believing the offer was a chance of a lifetime, Jayson immediately excepted it without even asking what type of work he would be doing or how much he would be paid. Jayson thought he would be working in construction and placed all his trust in the woman who offered him the position. However, once he arrived in the U.S. he became a victim of human trafficking.
In the U.S., Jayson and his co-worker were forced to work at a retirement home for the elderly. They had to take care of 7 residents, the majority of them suffered from dementia. His duties included bathing and feeding the residents and he also had to do construction work and maintenance on the property. Jayson was forced to work 18 to 20 hours a day and had to sleep on the floor in the hallway. During this time, he was only given chicken bones and table scraps to eat. Jayson’s trafficker told him that he owed her a great amount of money and that he would have to work for her for 10 years before she would let him go. His trafficker also threatened him with deportation and accusations of theft if he tried to escape.
When a neighbor noticed that neither he nor his coworker ever had a day off, the neighbor notified the FBI. The FBI initiated an investigation and eventually rescued him and his coworker. When the Federal Agents rescued Jayson and the other victims, a social worker with the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST) and emergency response coordinator who spoke Tagalog were there to support them. Jayson received social and legal services while he continued to assist the investigation. Their trafficker accepted a plea bargain and received a 5-year prison sentence.
Jayson is now a father and works as a food prep manager at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). He is a member of the CAST Survivor Advisory Caucus, and the National Survivor Network, a group of survivors who are learning leadership and advocacy skills in order to raise awareness and influence policies to better protect and help survivors of human trafficking. Jayson has travelled to New York and Seattle to present at national conferences, providing feedback to service providers and other stakeholders about how to better and improve protections and services for survivors of human trafficking.
Angela Guanzon: Survivor of Trafficking
Angela was born and raised in Bacolod City, Philippines. The second youngest of 6 children, her family was poor. Both of her parents worked hard to support the family, but life was still difficult. Angela earned a scholarship to attend a 2-year college. Despite this, opportunities were limited. Her father fell ill and Angela needed a way to help the family with the cost of medical treatment. Angela heard of the opportunity to come to the United States and work through her aunt and believed that the opportunity was the chance of a lifetime.
Once she arrived in the U.S. it became clear that what was promised was far from reality. Like Jayson, Angela was forced to work for two years at a retirement home for the elderly located in Long Beach, CA. She was forced to work 18-hour days and had to sleep on the floor in the hallway. She was given only chicken bones and table scraps to eat. Angela’s trafficker told her that she owed a great amount of money and that she would have to work for her for 10 years before she would let her go. Her trafficker threatened Angela and her co-workers with deportation and being accused of theft if they tried to escape.
When a neighbor noticed that neither she nor her co-worker ever had a day off, he notified the FBI. Angela bravely worked with the FBI to free her co-worker and herself, gathering evidence for the prosecution. Her trafficker pled guilty and received a 5-year prison sentence. When Federal Agents rescued Angela and the other victims, a CAST social worker and emergency response coordinator who spoke Tagalog was there to meet them. Angela stayed in the CAST shelter for 18 months, where she received intensive case management and legal services which helped her get stabilized and allowed her the space to heal. CAST case managers helped her learn English and go back to school.
Angela is now a Certified Nurse’s Assistant and is a member of the CAST Survivor Advisory Caucus, and the National Survivor Network, a group of survivors who are learning leadership and advocacy skills in order to raise awareness and influence policies to better protect and help survivors of human trafficking. Angela has travelled to Washington DC and Chicago to present at national conferences and was nominated to receive the 2012 CAST seeds of renewal award for her leadership.
Juan Jose Rosales: A Carnival and Fair Worker on a H-2B Visa
Juan Jose was recruited from Mexico to work in the fair and carnival industry on an H-2B visa. Juan Jose reported that the pre-departure information he was provided included false representations of work conditions in the United States. When Juan Jose learned about the employment opportunity, the recruiter told him that he would receive around $7-8 per hour for his work with a fair company. Juan Jose accepted the offer and agreed to travel from his home in Mexico to the U.S. for work. He paid approximately $500 in recruitment, visa and passport processing, as well as lodging and transportation fees. Juan Jose was never reimbursed for any of these expenses.
Once he was in the U.S., Juan Jose travelled with fairs to job sites in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi. He was subjected to grueling work weeks, often working in excess of 72 hours per week. On days that the fair was in transit he worked additional hours taking down, cleaning up, and packing the rides in one location and then transporting them to the next location where he would unpack and set the rides up for the next business day. His wages never amounted to the rate he was promised in Mexico. On average he only earned $270 USD per week, far less than the wage he was promised. In addition, he was forced to live in overcrowded trailers with no air conditioning, unclean bathroom facilities, and no kitchen facilities.