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Report: Workers, visa system exploited by employers

Via the Kansas City Star, a government report released this week found that foreign workers are at times abused and exploited under the H-2B visa program, which allows companies to hire foreign workers for temporary jobs they can’t fill with Americans. The Government Accountability Office found that some employers cheat the system to avoid hiring American workers and then subject foreign workers to bad conditions and unfair wages.

The Government Accountability Office went undercover to investigate how 18 recruiters would respond to questions about how to hire foreign workers, who can be less expensive than native-born workers. Three of them took the bait, recommending the fictional landscape employer dissuade Americans from applying by scheduling job interviews before 7 a.m., requiring drug tests and making applicants “run around the shop carrying a 50-pound bag to determine [if] they were fit for the work.”

For the foreign workers who eventually get jobs under H-2B visas, the GAO found employers sometimes underpay or charge visa workers excessive fees for visa processing, housing or transportation. More than half of the cases reviewed by government investigators involved fees that drastically reduced paychecks for workers, sometimes to as low as $48 in a two-week period.

Labor rights groups say that foreign-born workers are often exploited by employers who rely on their lack of connections or access to resources in the United States. This can be even worse for undocumented workers, who rights groups say suffer frequent wage theft and other workplace abuses because they fear being turned over to immigration authorities.Workers on H-2B visas are in the country legally, but at times it’s through employers who are cheating the system by skipping over qualified American applicants.

For more on workplace exploitation, it’s worth re-reading the Star’s series on trafficking from last year. After the series ended in December, Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said she would begin more work on ending human trafficking, including a campaign launched in July to improve trafficking assistance and awareness programs.

The Labor Department, which also handles the issue, has added investigators to its Wage and Hour Division to audit seasonal H-2B visa workers. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis has argued for fair wages for all workers — even undocumented ones — and appeared in advertising this summer telling workers “every worker in America has the right to be paid fairly, whether documented or not.”

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