Today, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Rep. Lois Frankel (D-FL), Rep. David Schweikert (R-AZ), Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL), and Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT) introduced the Visa Transparency Anti-Trafficking Act to prevent human trafficking by bringing more openness to foreign temporary worker visas.
“The bipartisan legislation we introduced today will help bring the scourge of human trafficking out of the shadows to prevent future abuse,” Sen. Blumenthal said. “By requiring a robust public reporting system for the nonimmigrant visa programs, the bill will help civil society organizations liberate trafficking victims from bondage, law enforcement identify human traffickers and bring them to justice, and policymakers ensure worker visa programs are operating as intended. It is time to expose and defeat human trafficking operations that profit off of the misery of others. It is time to shine a light on predatory recruiters and complicit employers. It is time to do more to protect people from the horrors of human trafficking—and this bill will give us the information we need to do just that.”
“Unscrupulous employers are luring unsuspecting foreign workers into exploitive working conditions,” Rep. Frankel said.“Our bill will focus a light on foreign temporary workers in order to prevent modern day slavery.”
Millions of foreign individuals are authorized to work in the United States on temporary, non-immigrant visas – such as J-1 exchange visitors, H-2A agricultural workers, and many others who are vital to our economy. Abusive employers are bringing foreign workers to the United States with the expectation of legitimate jobs, only to coerce them into unbearable conditions, including sex trade and domestic servitude.
Currently, federal data on these temporary work visas is not uniformly reported and not available to the public. The lack of this data impedes law enforcement’s efforts to crack down on this form of human trafficking. The lack of transparency also hampers efforts by labor analysts and policymakers to understand how temporary worker visas impact American jobs.
“Standardized reporting and publically available data are crucial for law enforcement agencies, policy makers, and civil society activists to identify and combat human trafficking, crack down on abusive employers, and warn vulnerable workers before they fall victim.” Rep. Schweikert said.
“It’s appalling to think that our current visa programs—lacking in proper coordination, accountability, or oversight—make it easy for human traffickers to take advantage of gaps in the system to lure victims into this modern form of slavery,” Rep. Deutch said. “With so many moving parts, nonimmigrant visa holders are left vulnerable to horrible acts of violence, sexual and financial exploitation, and forced labor. This bill offers a smart proposal to help address the problem by requiring all responsible agencies to share visa data and make this information public. This will allow law enforcement, journalists, non-governmental watchdog groups, and others to collaborate to protect our guest workers and stop human traffickers from abusing the system.”
“There is no question that our visa system is fragmented and often irrational enabling heinous crimes like human trafficking to occur,” Rep. Himes said. “In far too many cases, foreign workers are promised legitimate work in the United States by job recruiters only to slip through the cracks and be pushed into a life of forced labor and servitude. Our bill will inject transparency into the visa process, giving law enforcement stronger tools to combat human trafficking while including specific provisions to protect victim privacy.”
“I was trafficked and exploited when I arrived in the U.S.,” said Shandra Woworuntu, human trafficking survivor and activist. “I came through a recruitment agency who promised me 6 months’ employment at a hotel in Chicago. The fact is, I didn't work in the hotel as promised. Instead, my passport was taken and the traffickers asked me to pay $30,000 and forced me to work as a sex slave in the underground sex business in New York, Connecticut and surrounding areas until I escaped. I believe intervention without prevention in combating human trafficking and exploitation is not a complete solution. We need more transparency and the Visa Transparency Anti-Trafficking Act of 2016 will be perfect to prevent temporary workers who come to the U.S. from being exploited and trafficked like me.”
The Visa Transparency Anti-Trafficking Act would:
· Create a standardized reporting system across all non-immigrant visas that authorize work, and require that the reported information be made public;
· Mandate that critical information be included in the public report in order to help advocacy groups and the public identify signs that a foreign workforce is demographically distinct from its domestic counterpart – which may indicate an underlying problem, such as employment discrimination, or worse, human trafficking;
· Give governments, advocates, and the public the data needed to develop targeted trafficking prevention outreach programs to educate workers domestically and abroad.
“Polaris is proud to stand alongside Senator Blumenthal and Representatives Frankel, Shweikert, Deutch, and Himes in support for the Visa Transparency Anti-Trafficking Act of 2016,” said Keeli Sorensen, Director of Government Relations and Public Policy at Polaris. “Based on reports of labor trafficking and labor exploitation made to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, Polaris knows that the abuse of temporary visa holders is undeniable. But to truly understand this phenomenon of exploitation we need more data, more records, and more information. This legislation will be critical to developing pointed interventions that will help end the abuse of temporary workers.”
“It is intolerable that employers manipulate the visa system to traffic workers to the United States,” said Cathleen Caron, Executive Director of the Global Workers Justice Alliance. “This bill will provide us with the tools we need to understand the alphabet soup of visas and end this shameful injustice.”
“Without key immigration data about U.S. temporary foreign worker programs, the public and policymakers have no credible way to evaluate the impact of guestworker programs on the economy, or to even know whether workers are being paid fairly,” said Daniel Costa, Director of Immigration Law and Policy Research at the Economic Policy Institute.“This bill will bring much-needed transparency to our opaque immigration system and drastically improve the quality of public debates about labor migration.”
The legislation has the support of: AFl-CIO; Alliance to End Slavery & Trafficking (ATEST);
American Federation of Teachers; Centro de los Derechos del Migrante; Coalition of Immokalee Workers; Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking (CAST); Economic Policy Institute
Free the Slaves; Futures Without Violence; Global Workers Justice Alliance; International Labor Recruitment Working Group (ILRWG); National Domestic Workers Alliance; National Employment Law Project; National Guestworker Alliance; Polaris; Safe Horizon; Service Employee International Union (SEIU); Southern Poverty Law Center; UniteHERE; Verité; and Vital Voices.