PRESS RELEASE: New report reveals employers using the State Department's J-1 Summer Work Travel Program

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 30, 2019

Contact: Evy Peña (evy@cdmigrante.org)

 

New report reveals employers using the State Department’s J-1 Summer Work Travel Program

 

First look at data reveals program often misused as source of cheap, exploitable labor

 

WASHINGTON –  The International Labor Recruitment Working Group (ILRWG) – a coalition of organizations committed to ending the systemic abuses of workers who are recruited to the United States and improving labor standards for all workers –released a report today offering the first-ever data-informed picture of employment realities in the J-1 Summer Work Travel Program (SWT). 

 

The J-1 program is the largest of the Department of State’s (DOS) international exchange programs that authorize temporary employment in the United States. 

 

The report, Shining a Light on Summer Work: A First Look at the Employers Using the J-1 Summer Work Travel Visa, analyzes data collected through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, which took 18 months to complete, and presents findings about the industries and 16,000 companies using the J-1 SWT program. It also highlights the vulnerabilities that 100,000 young migrantworkers face each year while employed through SWT. 

 

The report discusses the systemic inadequacies and lack of oversight of the program, which uses private organizations as recruiters and de facto managers of the program. In the report, the ILRWG urges lawmakers to reform the J-1 SWT program to ensure internationally recruited workers are protected. 

 

The J-1 Exchange Visitor Program was created by the DOS in 1961 to enhance diplomacy and foster cultural exchange, but now consists of 14 different programs. Summer Work Travel is the largest of these programs and has morphed into a source of cheap and exploitable labor with little opportunity for cultural exchange. The program is widely used. In 2015, 16,000 companies, including large corporations like McDonald’s, Disney and Food Lion, hired 95,000 J-1 SWT workers. 

 

“The sponsor agency at home promised me a cultural exchange – I would improve my English, meet people and immerse in the American culture,” said Oliver Benzon, a former J-1 SWT worker in Ocean City, Maryland. “For many of us students, the experience feels more like exploitation.”

 

Because DOS primarily has a mission to conduct foreign affairs, it lacks expertise in protecting labor standards for migrant workers and is therefore unfit to address violations under the SWT program. 

 

It is difficult to advocate for these workers due to DOS’ lack of transparency about the employers that hire J-1 SWT workers and the occupations, wages, and working conditions these workers face. 

 

Wage theft, retaliation, physical threats, and human trafficking are among the countless abuses of J-1 workers documented over the years through news reports and litigation. Between 2015 and 2017, there were 67 J-1 visa holders who reported to the national human trafficking hotline[JK3] that they were victims of trafficking. 

 

The ILRWG analysis of this critical new data set makes clear employers are using the SWT program to supplement their workforce while simultaneously recruiting and hiring workers in other visa programs – some of which have annual numerical limits – like the H-2B temporary work visa program for non-agricultural jobs.

 

The report recommends the following policies and reforms that would protect workers:

 

  • Require that the program fulfill its original mission of cultural exchange.

  • Guarantee that J-1 workers have robust labor and employment protections, and that the program does not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of U.S. workers.

  • Regulate the recruitment of J-1 workers to protect against fraud, discrimination and human trafficking.

  • Provide J-1 workers effective mechanisms for legal recourse when their rights are violated.

  • Make information about the J-1 program publicly available and easily accessible to stakeholders and the public.

 

“No one should have to pay to work. Guestworkers across visa categories and industries oftentimes must take out loans to cover recruitment fees and travel expenses,” said Rachel Micah-Jones, chair of the ILRWG and founder and executive director of Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Inc. (CDM). “When workers arrive to the U.S. indebted, they are less likely to report labor violations for fear of losing their jobs and status. Recruitment fees should be banned across guestworker programs.”

 

“Transparency is an obvious first step in protecting J-1 workers and U.S. labor markets. To improve temporary foreign work programs and avoid the exploitation and trafficking of temporary foreign workers, we must understand the impact of the programs,” said Justice in Motion Policy and Advocacy Manager Jeremy McLean, describing the program as unnecessarily cryptic. “It is currently far too difficult to acquire data that is already collected by the government, the information used in this report was only obtained after a complicated bureaucratic process lasting 18 months. Data on public programs should be available to the public.”

 

"When you look across the industries and employers that we now know are using the J-1 program heavily, you recognize a lot of names and places where workers and their unions have been rising up and taking action to try to improve working conditions.  It is unacceptable to introduce a hundred thousand temporary and vulnerable workers into these low wage positions each summer without adequate protections or oversight, and we are committed to the long-term fight to win pro-worker reforms to this program," said Shannon Lederer, AFL-CIO's director of immigration.

 

“International exchange programs like those for Fulbright Scholars are vital to fostering understanding across borders and cultures,” said Daniel Costa, the director of immigration law and policy research at the Economic Policy Institute. “But J-1 Summer Work Travel is a low-wage temporary work program with few rules, little oversight, and is disguised as a cultural exchange – a pseudo-diplomacy via guestworkers where young college students from abroad are labeled ‘participants’ instead of employees – while working full-time jobs without the basic labor protections afforded to other migrant workers.“

  

“For years, J-1 workers have been publicly sharing their experiences of disillusionment, recruitment fraud, and workplace abuse. This report confirms through data what we have long known: that those experiences are not just anomalies, but evidence of a broken program that is often nothing more than a smokescreen for many US employers to gain access to cheap and exploitable labor, said Meredith Stewart, Senior Supervising Attorney with the SPLC’s Immigrant Justice Project. “The State Department and Members of Congress can no longer ignore the serious failures of the J-1 Summer Work Travel program.”



 

###

 

 


PRESS RELEASE: Blumental, Cruz, Frankel & Deutch Introduce Bipartisan, Bicameral Bill to Bring Transparency to Temporary Worker Visa Programs & Combat Human Trafficking

For Immediate Release

Contact: Maria McElwain (Blumenthal)

(202) 224-6452

Maria Jeffery (Cruz)

(202) 228-7561

Gillian Spolarich (Frankel)

(202) 225-9890

Jason Attermann (Deutch)

(202) 225-3001

July 23, 2019

Blumental, Cruz, Frankel & Deutch Introduce Bipartisan, Bicameral Bill to Bring Transparency to Temporary Worker Visa Programs & Combat Human Trafficking

[WASHINGTON, DC] – U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) and U.S. Representatives Lois Frankel (D-FL) and Ted Deutch (D-FL) today introduced the bipartisan Visa Transparency Anti-Trafficking Act. The bill seeks to prevent human trafficking by bringing more openness to the foreign temporary worker visa process.

Millions of foreign individuals are authorized to work in the United States every year on temporary, non-immigrant visas. Abusive employers are bringing foreign workers to the United States with the expectation of legitimate jobs, only to coerce them into unbearable conditions, including sex slavery and domestic servitude. Federal data on these temporary work visas is not uniformly reported and not available to the public, impeding law enforcement’s efforts to crack down on this form of human trafficking. The Visa Transparency Anti-Trafficking Act provides a straightforward solution to gaps in reporting, by requiring a standardized reporting system, expanding reports to include critical information, and providing governments, advocates, and the public with the data needed to develop trafficking prevention programs.

“Inadequate data and lax enforcement help enable widespread human trafficking.  By requiring the reporting of key data about non-immigrant visa categories that permit employment, our bipartisan measure will close major gaps in public government data. We will strengthen law enforcement’s ability to stop this horrific modern day slavery by doing everything possible to shine a light on predatory recruiters and complicit employers.”

 

“Human trafficking is a stain on our society forcing too many workers into sex trade and abusive labor practices,” said Frankel. “Our bill will help end this modern-day slavery by increasing transparency and providing worker protection organizations and law enforcement the information to identify and stop it.”

 

“Human trafficking is a terrible and tragic industry, affecting every community across the country,” Cruz said. “It is an act of unmitigated evil that tears down the rights of its victims and forces them into modern-day slavery. Unfortunately, human trafficking is far more common in the United States than most people think. It’s a scourge on our country and the world, and it needs to be stopped. I’m proud to introduce this bill alongside Senator Blumenthal, to expose human trafficking abuses that occur in our nonimmigrant visa system by creating a better reporting system and sharing data so that abuse patterns can be identified and stopped. Transparency will empower law enforcement and vigilant communities to identify potential victims and rescue them from predatory employers. It is time for Congress to pass this bill, hold offenders accountable, and bring justice to their victims.”

 

“We must do more to close the gaps in our immigration system that allow human traffickers to operate their networks right under our noses. Our federal agencies already collect data on these nonimmigrant visa programs. Making the data public could assist policymakers and advocacy groups to develop ways to fill gaps and protect workers trafficked into our country under false pretenses,” said Deutch.

 

In the Senate, the legislation is co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT). In the House, the legislation is co-sponsored by U.S. Representatives Randy Weber (R-TX), Jim Himes (D-CT), Ann Wagner (R-MO), and David Schweikert (R-AZ).

 

The Visa Transparency Anti-Trafficking Act is also supported by AFL-CIO, Alliance to End Slavery & Trafficking (ATEST), American Federation of Teachers, Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking (CAST), Economic Policy Institute, Freedom Network, Free the Slaves, Futures Without Violence, International Labor Recruitment Working Group (ILRWG), Justice in Motion, National Domestic Workers Alliance, National Employment Law Project, National Guestworker Alliance, Polaris, Safe Horizon, Service Employee International Union (SEIU), Southern Poverty Law Center, UniteHERE, Verité, and Vital Voices.

 

“When someone with a work visa travels to our country thinking a legitimate job awaits but then ends up in severe exploitation, something is terribly wrong with our system", commented Justice in Motion Executive Director, Cathleen Caron. “This bill will help us stop human trafficking by informing us who the employers are, providing key workforce demographics like where the workers are from, and the terms and conditions of those jobs. The government already has all the data, we are not asking it to collect more. We just want access to what it has.”

“I came to the United States through an Indonesian recruitment agency who promised me six months of employment at a hotel in Chicago. After I paid a $3,000 recruitment fee, they obtained the paperwork to get me a temporary work visa. When I arrived in the United States, I didn’t work in the hotel as promised. Instead, I was kidnapped, my passport was taken, and I was forced at gunpoint to be a sex slave in New York, Connecticut, and the surrounding areas. My traffickers demanded that I pay $30,000 to be free. Finally, I escaped from the brothel by jumping out of a second-story bathroom window,” said Shandra Woworuntu, a survivor of human trafficking and founder of Mentari. “I believe intervention without prevention in the fight to eradicate human trafficking and exploitation is not a complete solution. We need more transparency and better data about workers who come to the United States, and the Visa Transparency Anti Trafficking Act of 2019 will be an important step in preventing temporary workers who come to the U.S. from being exploited and trafficked like I was.”

 

“Despite the importance of migrant workers in the U.S. economy, it is extremely difficult to uncover basic facts about work visa programs that would help ensure they are treated fairly,” said EPI Director of Immigration Law and Policy Research Daniel Costa. “But we know that the migrant workers in these programs are often exploited by their employers, thanks to numerous exposes and reports in the media and from government auditors.”

 

“Nearly half of the labor trafficking survivors reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline in cases when immigration status was disclosed were foreign nationals trafficked while here through the U.S. temporary work visa system. Yet, our own government's data on these programs are shrouded in secrecy," said Bradley Myles, CEO of Polaris. "The Visa Transparency Anti-Trafficking Act is essential to the fight against human trafficking and would help provide the necessary data, records, and information we need to better understand how guestworkers are being exploited in America. Our government has this information, and we hope Congress passes this bill requiring it to be made public."  

  

The Visa Transparency Anti-Trafficking Act would:

  • Create a standardized reporting system across all non-immigrant visas that authorize work, and require that the reported information be made public;

  • Mandate that critical information be included in the public report in order to help advocacy groups and the public identify signs that a foreign workforce is demographically distinct from its domestic counterpart – which may indicate an underlying problem, such as employment discrimination, or worse, human trafficking; and,

  • Give governments, advocates, and the public the data needed to develop targeted trafficking prevention outreach programs to educate workers domestically and abroad.

PRESS RELEASE: New legislation would bring transparency to U.S. visa system and prevent human trafficking

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 11, 2018

Cathleen Caron                       

Justice in Motion

(646)351-1160

cathleen@justiceinmotion.org

 

New legislation would bring transparency to U.S. visa system and prevent human trafficking

Washington D.C., January 11, 2018: Today, on National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Ted Cruz (R-TX), and U.S. Representatives Lois Frankel (D-FL) and Ted Deutch (D-FL) introduced the Visa Transparency Anti-Trafficking Act, a bipartisan bill designed to shed light on the intersection of human trafficking and the temporary foreign worker visa system. The legislation is also co-sponsored in the House by U.S. Representatives Randy Weber (R-TX), Jim Himes (D-CT), Ted Poe (R-TX), and David Schweikert (R-AZ). The bill is supported by experts from the Economic Policy Institute, Justice in Motion, Mentari Human Trafficking Survivor Empowerment Program, and Polaris. If passed, this bill would create a uniform system for publicly reporting data that the government already collects on temporary visa programs, allowing an examination of temporary visa holder exploitation.

Every year, close to one million workers come to the United States on temporary work visas to fill jobs in a number of occupations, including farm labor, landscaping, hospitality, as well as information technology jobs and teaching jobs. Unfortunately, the system is sometimes leveraged by unscrupulous employers using these legal government programs to severely exploit workers and even enslave them. According to the Urban Institute, in a sampling of labor trafficking cases, 71 percent of victims of forced and coerced labor originally entered the United States on visas.[1] 

“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 Daniel Costa, Director of Immigration Law and Policy Research at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI). EPI has attempted to publish the numbers of temporary migrant workers employed by visa classification based on the limited data that is available, but those are just estimates; no official government estimate data exists by visa class. “We also 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 added.

Work visa programs require that visa holders only work for the employer that solicited the visa. Often, when a work visa holder complains about employment conditions, employers retaliate with threats of deportation or by firing the worker. Once a visa holder no longer works for the sponsoring employer for whatever reason, he or she becomes instantly deportable. In a system that gives employers this type of control over their employees, human trafficking will continue to run rampant and unethical employers will be free to undercut the law-abiding competition.

“We cannot allow employers to continue manipulating the visa system,” said Cathleen Caron, Executive Director at Justice in Motion. “By doing so we are allowing them to commit heinous crimes against workers who come to this country on a legitimate visa expecting that the job they were recruited for is secure and that their employer can be trusted. This bill will give us access to the data we need to make sure that a job opportunity on a temporary work visa does not devolve to severe exploitation and human trafficking.”

From data published by the Human Trafficking Legal Center, a significant number of federal human trafficking cases involved victims holding non-immigrant work visas. From 2003 through 2017, 261 civil suits were filed in federal court that contained claims of human trafficking. Of those, 122 alleged the trafficking of a non-immigrant visa holder. According to this data, nearly half of the human trafficking victims that filed a federal lawsuit held a non-immigrant work visa in one of eleven visa classifications, from the more commonly known H-2A agriculture visa to the lesser known A-3 and G-5 domestic worker visas[2].

Those are just the cases that were officially filed, but human rights advocates indicate that the rate of exploitation is much higher and needs to be addressed. “Based on reports of labor trafficking and labor exploitation made to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, Polaris knows that the abuse of guest workers is relatively common. Unfortunately, except for these individual cases, that is about all we know,” said Joe Racalto, Polaris’s senior policy advisor. “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.”

“I came to the U.S. through Indonesian recruitment agency who promised me 6 months’ employment at a hotel in Chicago after I paid $,3000 for the recruitment fee,” said Shandra Woworuntu, Founder and Vice-President of the Mentari Human Trafficking Survivor Empowerment Program. “They obtained the paper work to get the visa. The fact is, I didn't work in the hotel as promised. Instead, I was kidnapped, my passport was taken, the traffickers asked me to pay $30,000 and forced me to be sex slave in the underground sex business in New York, Connecticut and surrounding areas until I escaped. I believe intervention without prevention in combating human trafficking and exploitation is not a complete solution. We need more transparency and better data about workers who come to the U.S., and the Visa Transparency Anti Trafficking Act will be perfect to prevent temporary workers who come to the U.S. from being exploited and trafficked like me,” she said.

If Congress passes and the president enacts the Visa Transparency Anti-Trafficking Act, we will gain insight into who the employers are and key workforce demographics such as where the workers come from, and the terms and conditions of employment. The data that this bill requires be made public is already collected by the government. For the first time, policymakers and the public will have access to the data needed to examine the impact that temporary visa programs have on the economy and the labor market, and advocates will have a valuable tool at their disposal to inform and reach out to potential victims of human trafficking.

About Justice in Motion:

Justice in Motion protects migrant rights by ensuring justice across borders. Legal and practical barriers prevent many migrants from asserting claims in a country when they are no longer present, or from collecting evidence in other countries. To address these challenges, Justice in Motion promotes “portable justice” to ensure that migrants can access justice across borders when they challenge an exploitative employer, denounce an abusive government action, or seek refuge from harm. Justice in Motion is dedicated to exposing and overcoming these injustices through legal, educational, and policy initiatives in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Central America. Essential to this transnational model is our Defender Network, a unique partnership of on-the-ground human rights organizations in Mexico and Central America. Justice in Motion makes sure that wherever migrants go, their rights will follow.

###

The legislation has the support of: AFL-CIO; Alliance to End Slavery & Trafficking (ATEST); American Federation of Teachers; Centro de los Derechos del Migrante; Coalition of Immokalee Workers; Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking (CAST); Economic Policy Institute, Freedom Network, Free the Slaves; Futures Without Violence; International Labor Recruitment Working Group (ILRWG); Justice in Motion, National Domestic Workers Alliance; National Employment Law Project; National Guestworker Alliance; Polaris; Safe Horizon; Service Employee International Union (SEIU); Southern Poverty Law Center; UniteHERE; Verité; and Vital Voices.


[1] Understanding the Organization, Operation, and Victimization Process of Labor Trafficking in the United States, 2014, page 23. The Urban Institute/Northeastern University report is based on a detailed review of 122 closed labor trafficking cases, supplemented by interviews with some of the victims involved in those case

[2] Data provided by The Human Trafficking Legal Center in Washington, D.C., October 2016.

CLICK TO LISTEN TO PRESS CONFERENCE

Download press release pdf

PRESS CONFERENCE: Introduction of Bipartisan Bill to Prevent Human Trafficking

BLUMENTHAL, CRUZ, FRANKEL, & DEUTCH TO INTRODUCE BIPARTISAN BILL TO PREVENT HUMAN TRAFFICKING

 

January 11 is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day

[WASHINGTON, DC] – U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Ted Cruz (R-TX), and U.S. Representatives Lois Frankel (D-FL), and Ted Deutch (D-FL), and leading anti-human trafficking advocates held a press conference call for reporters Thursday, January 11 at 9:00 AM ET to announce the introduction of the bipartisan Visa Transparency Anti-Trafficking Act to prevent human trafficking by bringing more openness to foreign temporary worker visas.

Justice in Motion Denounces Recent Executive Order and DHS Policies

Today Justice in Motion joined over 560 organizations nationwide in sending a letter to DHS and to ICE calling on them to recognize that the executive actions and new DHS policies make our communities less safe and that immigrant survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and trafficking deserve protection. We are proud to be a part of this effort--read the full letter here : https://goo.gl/E4Hr9z

Justice in Motion meets with Advocates in Tlaxcala

TLAXCALA, TLAXCALA, MÉXICO - FEBRUARY 26, 2015

Program Associate, Matthew Erle, met with representatives of a collective that are working to advance rights of migrants and their families in the state of Tlaxcala, a state about 75 miles from Mexico City that has been seeing high levels of both labor migration and human trafficking in recent years. 

The “Colectivo por la Migración sin Fronteras” (Collective for Migration without Borders) seeks to promote better public policy around migration. The members of the Colectivo come from three organizations: Centro de atención a familias de migrantes (Center for Service to the Families of Migrants, or CAFAMI), Nosotras Somos tu Voz (We are your Voice), and the Albergue La Sagrada Familia (Holy Family Shelter). Each brings their own perspective to the challenges in Tlaxcala. CAFAMI works with the families of migrants who have both left Tlaxcala and migrated in to Tlaxcala. The Albergue, located along the train tracks that form the backbone of the migrant trail, provides aid and education to migrants as they make their way north. Nosotras somos tu voz brings legal and policy expertise around migration issues. 

Matthew shared how we have worked with Defenders and other local allies on successful policy advocacy initiatives at a state level in Mexico, specifically in Michoacan and Oaxaca. They brainstormed about potential opportunities to collaborate on policy advocacy challenges and on migrant education. We also shared information regarding our publications, which provide a transnational perspective on the issues faced in Tlaxcala. Moving forward, Justice in Motion and the Collective plan to tease out the ways in which we can collaborate on these shared goals of justice for migrant workers in their countries of origin, transit, and destination.