By Siya Hegde

Many guest workers experience harsh working conditions that most Americans might expect to find in developing countries, but would be surprised to see in the US — and these workers lack the right to blow the whistle when they suffer illegal abuse or mistreatment.

Imagine what it might feel like to be held captive by someone who has presumed the responsibility as your legal sponsor in the United States. First your passport is confiscated, erasing your personal identity, and then you are compelled to work fourteen hours a day nonstop.

After hours of hard labor, physical and verbal threats, you return to a crammed confined living space with inadequate access to food and water that you share with two dozen others.

And you are denied the right to do or say anything in your defense.

Sounds crazy right? Unfortunately, this is the experience of many workers who are here in the United States working as a temporary guest worker on an H-2B visa.

Tens of thousands of low-skilled, temporary H-2B migrant workers travel to the United States every year. These workers arrive expecting that they will enjoy its economic opportunities and climb the social ladder on the way to attaining their permanent residency. Some have even gone so far as to say that these acts of guest worker exploitation and abuse are violations of the thirteenth amendment.

However, the Senate could address the needs of H-2B workers as a part of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, S.744.

In its current form, S.744 does not provide whistleblower protections of H-2B workers. If whistleblower protections were provided for these workers, they would have a means to end their subjection to workplace abuse.

Thankfully, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) has recognized that the abusive practices of H-2B employers should no longer go unchecked. Blumenthal has introduced amendment 1429 to S.744 and has called for bipartisan support to extend whistleblower protections to H-2B workers, a simple right that the majority of the private sector enjoys.

All workers, regardless of their immigration status, should be treated as equals in the workplace. No longer should we stand by and watch a large segment of the population be exploited on the job. After all, H-2B workers are our guests; no guests should be treated the way that they have been.

Blumenthal’s push to reform whistleblower protections for H-2B rights would certainly be a step in the right direction. If these protections are granted, H-2B workers would no longer be subjected to the perils of industry, including dangerous working conditions. Furthermore, it would compel us to reevaluate our democratic ideals and the manner in which we execute them.

Siya Hegde is a worker health and safety intern for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch. Keep up with Public Citizen’s workplace health and safety work by following @SafeWorkers on Twitter.

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Comments

  • Jake Parent

    Great post Siya. These guest workers contribute a lot to our economy and deserve much better!

  • Paul Chapman

    Guest shouldn’t be here for American jobs anyway. They should come here to vacation and spend their own money, not steal our money just to send it to their home countries. And no I am not a Republican. If I went to their country I would not be looking for a job.

    • circanow

      Your unspoken words say it all. Those who take their privileged circumstances for granted wouldn’t be able to relate to a person desperate to work in any conditions, to pull their family out of squalor and poverty. A person working for an exploitative employer for paltry wages is stealing YOUR money? Can you fathom that many people in this world couldn’t even imagine taking a vacation? Open your eyes, Mr Chapman.

  • Peter Brazitis

    My question – why are H-1B workers in the United States in the first place? As an older technical worker, my last 400+
    job applications resulted in 3 job interviews and no offers. H-1B’s have an advantage to the employer – not only are they
    cheap, but they cannot utter the dreaded words “I quit!”,
    much less blow whistles, without the threat of deportation.
    Go to any technical job fair, and see the hundreds of surplus
    job-hungry engineers and scientists looking for employment.

  • Louise

    I agree in part with the content but I disagree regarding the statement that <>
    They should not or they are being mislaid.
    They are: “here in the United States working as a temporary guest worker on an H-2B visa”
    That status does not lead to citizenship. I know it too well – personally.
    When you invite guests in your house, you do not expect them to move in.
    Advocacy needs to be treated on an honest basis, not emotionally.

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