Washington – The group Farmworker Justice on Wednesday denounced abuses and the lack of protection for workers in the U.S. government's H-2 agricultural visa program.
The organization's president, Bruce Goldstein, held a conference call with reporters Wednesday to present a new report, "No Way to Treat a Guest: Why the H-2A Agricultural Visa Program Fails U.S. and Foreign Workers."
Temporary workers with H-2A visas represent 10 percent of the U.S. agricultural labor force, which is made up mainly of undocumented foreigners.
The H-2A program allows U.S. farmers to hire temporary foreign workers when they need seasonal labor.
To be able to participate, employers must show that they need foreign workers because there are insufficient U.S. workers to round out their payrolls.
In addition, they have to certify that the wages and working conditions they offer satisfy the program's minimum requirements.
However, according to Farmworker Justice, the U.S. Labor Department frequently approves illegal elements in the H-2A workers' contracts such that these employees often receive lower wages than their U.S. counterparts.
In addition, in the recruiting process for these workers, abuses often occur including human trafficking and fraud, the group says.
Also, the negative consequences of the lack of protection for seasonal workers have an effect on Americans, Farmworker Justice maintains.
"For an employer it's more profitable to hire a foreigner on a temporary basis with the H-2A than an American, because they have tax and Social Security exemptions," Goldstein said.
Among the recommendations Farmworker Justice is making is a demand that workers who come to the United States to work with H-2A visas be given the chance "to earn permanent legal immigration status."
The report also urges that H-2A visa holders be allowed to change employers. For the moment, those workers are tied to their employer, something - the association says - that prevents workers from denouncing abuses.
The report was prepared after interviewing workers who have participated in the program and attorneys who have worked on lawsuits filed against employers over the past 30 years.