The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has issued a statement, released on December 19, following a visit to the United States by Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, UN Special Rapporteur in Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children.
The Special Rapporteur, in discussing trafficking, raised concerns about the vulnerability of agricultural guestworkers due to their non-immigrant status under the H-2A temporary foreign agricultural worker program and ongoing abuses under the program.
It is helpful at this moment to have objective observers investigate and comment on the H-2A temporary foreign agricultural guestworker program. Agricultural employers’ use of the H-2A visa program has grown rapidly and likely will continue to expand. Grower associations are campaigning to lower H-2A wage rates and reduce government oversight.
The UN Special Rapporteur said:
“The legal framework governing temporary visas for migrant workers, especially H-2A visa for temporary or seasonal agricultural work and H-2B visa for temporary or seasonal non-agricultural work visas, is of particular concern as it exposes applicants to the risk of exploitation, including human trafficking.”
In practice, she found that for many guestworkers reporting human rights violations or quitting their jobs to return home “is impossible because of the debts they incur from recruitment agencies’ fees.”
She called on the United States to improve the way the program operates and to do more to stop abuses.
Her comments echo our report, “No Way to Treat a Guest: Why the H-2A Agricultural Visa Program Fails U.S. and Foreign Workers,” available on our website.
The UN’s statement will be useful as we and allies defend farmworkers in the policy battle that will occur in the next Administration and Congress and seek to build a just immigration system that respects working people.