December 15, 2020

Castro Introduces Legislation to Overhaul Guest Worker Program

The Seasonal Worker Solidarity Act creates a new pro-worker, rights-based framework for the H-2B temporary guest worker visa program.

WASHINGTON — Congressman Joaquin Castro (TX-20), Chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and member of the House Education and Labor Committee, introduced the Seasonal Worker Solidarity Act. This bill creates a new framework for the H-2B temporary guest worker visa program to prevent discrimination and displacement, elevate labor standards, respond to real labor market needs, end captive employment, respect family unity, ensure access to justice, and afford immigrant workers a path to citizenship. 

The legislation is co-sponsored by Representative Rosa DeLauro (CT-03), Chair-elect of the House Appropriations Committee, Representative Judy Chu (CA-27), Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, Representative Karen Bass (CA-37), Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Representative Linda Sánchez, Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Task Force on Immigration, Representative Andy Levin (MI-09), Representative Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and Congressmen Mark Pocan (WI-2), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. 

The Seasonal Worker Solidarity Act is supported by the AFL-CIO, BAC (Bricklayers,) IAM (Machinists), IBB (Boilermakers,) Ironworkers, IUPAT (Painters), LIUNA (Laborers,) NABTU (Building Trades,) UFCW, UNITE HERE, Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Economic Policy Institute, Farmworker Justice, Global Labor Justice Project, Jobs with Justice, Justice at Work, Justice in Motion, New Orleans Worker Center for Racial Justice, and the Southern Poverty Law Center. 

“The current visa system for temporary workers is fundamentally flawed, enabling the abuse of hard-working families and failing to account for our economic needs. My bill creates a new framework that protects worker’s rights by elevating labor standards and preventing discrimination, and also provides immigrant workers a path to citizenship,” said Rep. Castro. “I appreciate the support of the many worker rights and immigrant justice organizations who are supportive of the Solidarity Act, and particularly the leadership of AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.”

“The current H-2B temporary guest worker visa program is failing workers and their families. The Solidarity Act provides a path forward and creates a visa program focused on the rights of all workers and the creation of fair labor practices. These much-needed reforms reward employers who treat workers with dignity and provides a desperately-needed pathway to citizenship,” said Rep. DeLauro. “I thank Congressman Castro and AFL-CIO President Trumka for their commitment to creating a system that works for the people.”

“America depends on seasonal workers to keep our country fed, yet we consistently allow them to be mistreated or even abused in the process. This bill is a much-needed fix that will finally treat seasonal workers with the dignity that all workers deserve,” said Rep. Chu. “I’m proud that this includes the POWER Act, my bill to protect workers from exploitation and retaliation if they report workplace abuses. It would also provide a pathway to citizenship for workers and their families and ensures that workers are paid fair wages. Breaking your back in our fields or warehouses to keep this country running is noble but trying work that seasonal workers endure in order to give their families a better future. This bill recognizes that effort and rewards those who support our country with their work with the support they deserve.”

"The Seasonal Workers Solidarity Act will bring much needed reform to the seasonal, non-agricultural guest worker program. For far too long, the program has lacked basic labor protections which allowed companies to exploit migrant workers. As Chair of the CHC Immigration Task Force, and Co-Chair of the Labor Caucus, I am proud to support solutions that put workers and workplace rights first, regardless of immigration status,” said Rep. Sánchez.

“America’s unions celebrate the introduction of the Seasonal Worker Solidarity Act and thank Representative Joaquin Castro for his leadership in drafting it. This timely new bill advances the simple notion that seasonal jobs should be safe, good jobs, where everyone is treated fairly. The pandemic has exposed the systemic undervaluing of work now understood to be essential, and increased recognition of the need for enforceable worker protections. Our current abusive model of guestworker programs has made workers into disposable commodities in our global economy, which is why unions have long called for them to be restructured. This bill rejects entrenched patterns of discrimination by reining in corporate power and promoting opportunity and equal rights for all workers in seasonal industries,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.

“The Solidarity Act pioneers a new framework for work visas that responds to real labor market needs, lifts workplace standards, and prevents discrimination and displacement. The bill will end captive employment in the H-2B program, respect family unity, expand access to justice and afford migrant workers a well-earned path to citizenship. In this time of health and economic crisis, we must work together to fix what is broken, rather than expand failed models. This bold new approach will help spur a just recovery by putting workers first, and we look forward to helping enact these reforms into law,” added President Trumka.


The H-2B visa program allows employers to hire foreign nationals for work in temporary, seasonal nonagricultural jobs. The program rules are promulgated jointly by DHS and DOL. Last year, nearly 100,000 H-2B visas were issued; the majority were issued to workers from Mexico (74%), and remaining visas went to workers from Jamaica, Guatemala, South Africa, and a wide range of other countries. While the H-2B program could play a helpful role to the U.S. economy in times of labor scarcity, there are fundamental flaws in the structure and oversight of the program that enable exploitation, discrimination and displacement of U.S. and migrant workers alike.  These abuses are widespread and well documented.[1] Rather than suspending this program, now is the time for constructive reform.

This chart outlines some of the serious problems that pervade the H-2B seasonal, non-agricultural visa program in its current form, and explains how the Solidarity Act will improve conditions for all workers.  

The reality today

The future under the Solidarity Act

H-2B employers intentionally bypass available U.S. workers for seasonal jobs

Requires enhanced nationwide recruitment of US-based workers

Creates an online jobs database so workers can apply directly for positions

Prohibits unnecessary experience requirements and background checks that are not legally required for the position

Engages unions in the search for available workers

Employers underpay H-2B workers and use the program to undercut local workers and competitors

Mandates prevailing wages and payment for all hours promised in H-2B contracts

Allocates visas to employers who pay the highest wages and treat their workers well

Prevents collusion through private wage surveys

Labor recruiters mislead H-2B workers and charge them high fees 

Bans charging workers fees that lead to debt bondage

Holds employers accountable for recruitment abuses

Allows workers to verify the legitimacy of job offers through multi-lingual online database

H-2B visas tie workers to a single employer who controls their fate

Puts workers in control of their visas

Allows a period of up to 60 days unemployment so workers can search for a new approved position

Seasonal workers are separated from their families and can’t apply for citizenship

Offers workers and their families a path to citizenship after 18 months of H-2B employment

Allows returning workers who have done at least 3 years of H-2B work to adjust to LPR status immediately

Employers abuse and retaliate against seasonal workers, threatening deportation 

Extends protective visas to workers who exercise their right to organize collectively or file claims 

Gives workers access to justice and legal services

Employers rarely face consequences for violating regulations and workers’ rights, and continue using the H-2B program

Bars employers who commit labor abuses from program

Charges employers fees to fund effective auditing and enforcement by the Department of Labor

Employers discriminate by recruiting workers based on country of origin, age and gender

Creates an H-2B Equal Opportunity Advocate position within DOL to address issues of diversity

Increases auditing of hiring practices

Visa issuance is random and high-volume employers get a large share of visas

Caps at 100 the visas that can go to a single employer

Issues visas quarterly and prioritizes employers with high labor standards who hire returning workers

Employers use the H-2B program to make work more precarious 

Prevents misuse of temporary visas for permanent jobs by narrowing the definition of seasonal to 7 months

Reduces fissuring by barring third party employers

You can view the full legislative text here.

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