Issues Arising With Guest Worker Program


After a BuzzFeed News investigation revealed the widespread exploitation and abuse of the guest worker program allowing people to enter the U.S. legally on H-2 visas, one member of congress is preparing to introduce legislation to increase oversight and accountability of the controversial H-2 guest worker visa program.

The report documented the cases of thousands of workers who were not being paid the proper wage. Other incidents documented involved workers who were threatened, beaten, sexually assaulted, starved and even imprisoned. It has gone as far as having workers die on the job. The investigation found that some employers rarely faced significant consequences.

Arizona Democrat, and member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Raul Grijalva calls some of the abuses “beyond the pale.” In a previous interview he mentioned that he is still working out the details of the proposed legislation, but it would likely include clear rules for treatment of H-2 guest workers employed by companies such forestry contractors that receive federal contracts. Grijalva is also considering proposals that would enhance the enforcement authority of the Department of Labor, which oversees the program.

The Government Accountability Office issued a report in March calling for stronger worker protections in the guest worker program. They noted that the Labor Department failed to conclude more than half of its investigations of H-2 employers within the two-year statute of limitations. The investigation also found that in spite of many companies being caught repeatedly abusing or exploiting the workers were still granted more visas and lucrative federal contracts.

Workers under the program see this as a way to earn more money than they could at home for a temporary basis, but because the program binds them to a single employer with no chance to change jobs, they are often subject to mistreatment.

The government has been warned repeatedly over the past two decades of serious systemic problems in the design and implementation of the H-2 program, and the Labor Department’s own inspector general has called for massive overhaul if not complete abandonment of the program.