Thursday, January 26, 2012

Increasing Reliance on Guest Worker Programs

By David Bacon, Americas Program
January 14, 2012

Over the last 25 years, guest worker programs have increasingly become a vehicle for channeling the migration that has stemmed from free market reforms. Increasing numbers of guest workers are recruited each year for labor in the U.S. from Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean under the H1-B, H2-A and H2-B programs. Recruiters promise high wages and charge thousands of dollars for visas, fees and transportation. By the time they leave home, the debts of guest workers are crushing.

In 2007 the Southern Poverty Law Center issued a report, Close to Slavery, documenting the treatment of guest workers. No one gets overtime, regardless of the law. Companies charge for tools, food and housing. Guest workers are routinely cheated. Recent protests have exposed the exploitation of guest workers recruited from India to work in the Mississippi shipyard of Signal International. They paid $15-20,000 for each visa, lived in barracks in the yard, and had to get up at 3.30 to use the bathroom because there weren’t enough for everyone. The company cut the wages, held six workers prisoner for deportation, and fired their leader, Joseph Jacobs. In 2006 Santiago Rafael Cruz, an organizer for the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, was murdered when the union tried to set up an office in Mexico to end the corruption and abuse by guest worker contractors. [...]

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