Press Releases | Immigration

News from EPI Transparency in work visa programs is needed to protect working people and fight human trafficking

The United States’ temporary, nonimmigrant work visa programs lack important transparency measures needed to protect American and migrant workers alike. Each visa classification or “guestworker” program has different reporting requirements, and only some of the information collected through the visa process is made public. Due to these reporting gaps, the federal government and the general public lack important information about the employers that hire migrant workers, the types of jobs performed, and the wages employers are promising to pay temporary migrant workers. Without greater transparency, millions of workers can end up hidden and vulnerable to abuse from employers, and efforts by immigrant and worker advocates to protect them become exponentially more difficult.

Today, Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Representatives Lois Frankel (D-Fla.) and Ted Deutch (D-Fla.),  along with Reps Randy Weber (R-Texas), Jim Himes (D-Conn.), Ted Poe (R-Texas), and David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) introduced the Visa Transparency Anti-Trafficking Act of 2018 (VTAT) which, if enacted, would create a standardized reporting system across all nonimmigrant visa categories that authorize employment, and require this information to be made public.

“It is extremely difficult to uncover basic facts about temporary work visa programs, including how many temporary migrant workers are currently employed in the United States,” said EPI Director of Immigration Law and Policy Research Daniel Costa. “But we know that the migrant workers in these programs are exploited by their employers, thanks to numerous reports in the media, from think tanks, as well as government auditors.”

Costa has published estimates of the numbers of temporary migrant workers employed by visa classification, based on the limited data that’s available. But those are just estimates; no official government estimate exists by visa class.

“When someone with a valid work visa—a seemingly legitimate job opportunity—ends up in a situation of severe exploitation or even human trafficking, something is terribly wrong with our system,” said Cathleen Caron, Executive Director of Justice in Motion, a migrant worker advocacy group. “This bill will increase transparency in what is now a mysterious labyrinth of visas, and allow us to see how employers are abusing the system and provide us with the tools to ensure that no person is trafficked on a visa ever again.”

The anti-trafficking organization Polaris also highlighted the importance of VTAT. Polaris Senior Policy Advisor Joe Racalto said, “Based on reports of labor trafficking and labor exploitation made to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, Polaris knows that the abuse of guestworkers is relatively common. Unfortunately, except for these individual cases, that is about all we know. This legislation will be critical to developing pointed interventions that will help end the abuse of temporary visa holders, and we are incredibly grateful for these congressional leaders making it a priority.”

See related work on Immigration | Work visas