Immigration is a controversial issue in America. The Legal process of working as a non-immigrant/immigrant with a visa can be a costly and risky process. Many foreigners, from third world countries, that go through the process can be exploited to work unbearable conditions, live like cattle, and have little to no representation in court; which inevitably leads to visa overstays.
The process of getting into America through a work visa is complicated,but we are going to focus on one visa, the “H2A Visa”. H2A visa is a visa for workers going into agricultural jobs. An application must be filled like any other visa,but there is a form fee included and the USCIS states that the fee is around 460 usd depending on the country of origin. Now 460 dollars may not seem like much but take the annual income from a third world country. Mexico for example, the average annual income is $843. Thats half of someones annual income just to try to work in America. If they are able to pay this then they are put on a waiting list to be “scanned for any malicious threat they might pose”(USCIS). Basically a background check is done to the people on the waiting list. Now if they make through all of this a company has to sponsor the individual in order for them to work in that company only and lastly an interview is done. That’s the really watered down version of the H2A visa process. Many still gamble just to find work in America. Now companies that apply for H2A visa looking for workers are met with strict guidelines. These include fees in covering the transportation, proof that American workers don’t want the job, and that the jobs given to visa workers won’t affect American businesses. Throughout the whole process the worker is not guaranteed a job and the rejection of a work visa means that the worker must apply for the visa and go through this whole process again, which includes paying the fee. One of the reasons why many skip this and come illegally.
Foreign worker on the H2A visa have their passport held by their employer of the company. Once the employer has your passport you are stuck with that company until the visa is expired. This leads to workers unable to leave the country and are force to either A be deported back to Mexico which defeats the purpose of working in America or B stay in the US without a visa which is more common. This happens to many visa overstayer and many take this option because of poor conditions in sponsored companies that went through the program. These conditions include the withhold of pay, taking from their paychecks, no breaks, and working long hours. We know this because of a case against Star Forestry, LLC in which I quote “defendants did not provide plaintiffs with pay stubs or any records regarding their hours… This failure caused plaintiffs to be unable to state with certainty the amount of unpaid wages they are owed”(CaseText). The plaintiff also worked for more than 40 hours a week. Now we can talk about the strict guidelines that the company has to follow when they have a migrant worker. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) is “To combat trafficking in persons, especially into the sex trade, slavery, and involuntary servitude”(U.S Department of State). There is another act which is Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (MSPA) and what that does is it “protects migrant and seasonal agricultural workers by establishing employment standards related to wages, housing, transportation, disclosures and recordkeeping”(Department of Labor). These are put in place in order to protect migrant workers. Since the workers have protection then why don’t the workers prosecute the employers. Well the government themselves are also to blame. MSPA secures that the worker has a way to file a complaint. If enough complaints are filed then the government does an investigation into the company. When they find the exploits, the company is fined and the workers are then released from their contract with the company. Which means that they are deported to the country they are from. This defeats the purpose of the complaint system if it leads to the visa being voided. That’s why a majority of workers don’t file a complaint. This then leads us to poor working conditions since the worker has no representation to retaliate. They are stuck with either suing and being deported or complaining and still being deported completely destroying the fact that they came here to work in fair working conditions. This leads us to many leaving the company and becoming visa overstayers.
Workers that do decide to stay and work on with the sponsor companies have to face mental instability. Companies have to provide housing to migrant workers (H2A Visas) and migrants are unable to leave these houses. Companies threaten to void their contracts if any workers are seen leaving the facilities. This puts mental stress in migrant workers. Many already unable to take the poor conditions and now they face repetition of working and staying home. Many workers are grouped up together with 8 or more staying in one house. There is far more regulations for this that benefit the workers,but as always there is a cache. The company has to provide this free of charge and in some cases fees were incurred by the workers. There was a immigrant scheme and the defendant was charged with “The indictment alleges that Mexican farmworkers were charged illegal fees for transportation, room and board”. These incidents cause many to quit and find opportunity else were.
There are more problems facing the regulation of working visas and there are ways to solve this. One way is to follow Canada working visas in which the worker are able to change employer if any exploitation is involved. This provides a huge leverage with migrant worker able incentivise sponsored companies to provide adequate conditions to the workers.