Congressman Castro Introduces H-2B Visa Reform Bill to Strengthen Protections for Seasonal Workers
SAN ANTONIO – Today, Congressman Castro (TX-20) held a press conference to announce the introduction of the Seasonal Worker Solidarity Act, legislation that would reform the H-2B guest worker visa program to improve labor standards for guest workers, create a pathway to citizenship for guest workers and their families, and prevent U.S. workers from being passed over for seasonal job opportunities.
During the press conference, Congressman Castro was joined by Rep. Judy Chu (CA-27), Texas AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Leonard Aguilar, labor leaders, and former guest workers who shared stories of captive employment and abuse by H-2B visa employers. A full video of today’s press conference can be viewed here.
“For years, unscrupulous employers have abused the H-2B system to undercut wages for American workers and hold guest workers captive in slavery-like conditions. These abuses hurt our economic growth and they penalize businesses that follow the law. Guest workers play an important role in our seasonal workforce, and they should be treated with dignity and respect,” said Congressman Joaquin Castro. “As the Biden administration prepares to issue a historic number of H-2B visas, I’m proud to introduce the Seasonal Worker Solidarity Act, which will raise standards for all workers and give guest workers the path to citizenship they have earned.”
“America depends on seasonal workers who play central roles in the functioning of our food supply chains. The Seasonal Workers Solidarity Act will ensure that these workers are not mistreated - or even abused - by employers who misuse the H-2B program to lower wages, discriminate against and exploit both U.S. and foreign workers.” said Congresswoman Judy Chu. “Among other much needed reforms, this bill will promote family unity by providing a pathway to citizenship for seasonal workers and their families, and it will ensure that these essential workers are paid fair wages. And I am extremely proud that it includes language from my bill, the POWER Act to protect workers from exploitation and retaliation if they report abuses occurring in their workplace.”
“The Seasonal Worker Solidarity Act is critical legislation in our fight to protect and expand workers’ rights across our economy,” said AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler. “Amid widespread evidence of wage theft, violence, retaliation and more in the H-2B visa program, it is clear that reform is long overdue. Seasonal workers are on the front lines, and seasonal jobs should guarantee fair wages and safe working conditions. This legislation will hold corporations accountable, raise labor standards and create greater prosperity for working people. Now is the time to fix this failing system. America’s unions are committed to leveraging our power to advance these bold and much-needed reforms.”
“When employers mistreat temporary guest workers, all workers suffer. In Texas, the H-2B system too often resembles indentured service, with workers suffering from theft of already low wages, threats of deportation, few options to move to another employer, and other abuses. The Texas AFL-CIO joins the AFL-CIO in supporting the Seasonal Worker Solidarity Act, which will guarantee H-2B workers gain fundamental workplace rights and a well-earned path to citizenship. We are grateful to Rep. Joaquin Castro and to all Representatives who have signed on to this legislation,” said Texas AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Leonard Aguilar.
"The current H-2B visa program is deeply flawed and migrant workers desperately need a safe way to come forward and report abuses without fear, so they can be paid fairly and treated with dignity, and not have to fear losing their paycheck or immigration status for doing so. The Seasonal Worker Solidarity Act is a legislative proposal that would finally put in place the needed reforms to ensure that workers are protected," said Daniel Costa, Director of Immigration Law and Policy Research at the Economic Policy Institute.
The H-2B visa program allows U.S. employers to bring foreign nationals to the United States to work in temporary, non-agricultural positions. To offer H-2B visas, an employer must prove that there are not enough U.S. workers who are available to do the work. The employer must also prove that employing H-2B workers will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of U.S. workers. Despite these requirements, abuse of the H-2B system has been rampant. Studies from the Economic Policy Institute have found that the current design of the H-2B visa system facilitates the exploitation of migrant workers while driving down demand for U.S. workers. In reports over the last decade, H-2B workers have recounted abysmal working conditions and widespread wage theft. According to the Department of Labor, in the seven industries where most H-2B workers are found, at least $1.8 billion in wages has been stolen from workers since 2000.
In 2021, the number of workers in the H-2B visa system hit a record high of 132,000. As a result of recently-announced H-2B allotment increases, a new high in the number of visas will be reached in 2022. As H-2B visas increase, so does the urgency of reforming the system to better protect all workers.
To view a fact sheet outlining how the H-2B visa program would change under the Seasonal Worker Solidarity Act, click here.
Original co-sponsors of the Seasonal Worker Solidarity Act include Reps. Nanette Barragán (CA-44), Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Jim McGovern (MA-02), Linda Sánchez (CA-38), Judy Chu (CA-27), Grace Meng (NY-06), Eleanor Holmes-Norton (DC-AL), Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick (FL-20), André Carson (IN-07), Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), Mark Pocan (WI-02), and Dina Titus (NV-01).
The Seasonal Worker Solidarity Act is supported by the AFL-CIO, the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers, the Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, the Economic Policy Institute, Farmworker Justice, the Global Labor Justice - International Labor Rights Forum, the Iron Workers International Union, Jobs with Justice (including the Chicago, Colorado, and Cleveland Jobs with Justice), Justice in Motion, the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, the Laborers International Union of North America (LiUNA!), Latin America Working Group, the Migration that Works Coalition, the National Immigration Law Center, Oxfam, the Retail, Wholesale, Department Store Union (RWDSU), the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), and UNITE HERE.
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