The national debate around immigration policy reform has largely ignored a disturbing trend in businesses: the modern-day indentured servitude of temporary workers.
New York recently took steps to eradicate this type of labor. The New York State Department of Labor’s new partnership with businesses will train employees on identifying trafficking of foreign workers. In December, a federal judge awarded $4.5 million to 350 Filipinos who worked in indentured servitude after being lured to teach in Louisiana by Los Angeles-based Universal Placement International, Inc. (UPI). They began arriving in the U.S. in 2007 as part of the H-1B worker program, which allow U.S. employers to temporarily employ foreign workers. The teachers paid the placement service about $16,000 to obtain the jobs, and many had to borrow money at high interest rates to pay the fees. In the meantime, UPI revoked their passports and visas until the fees were paid.
In another scheme in Louisiana, Filipino skilled workers were trafficked by Grand Isle Shipyard Inc. (GIS) from the Philippines with promises of visas, pay above $16 an hour and quality jobs. Instead, they were paid just $5 an hour and were forced to work up to 14 hours a day, every day, with no overtime. In addition, they had to pay up to $3,000 for housing to share bunk beds. The alleged abuse came to light after an offshore explosion in November 2012 caused the death of three Filipino workers.
We need to take a closer look at the demands for labor and the abusive recruitment practices within these temporary worker programs that take away the dignity of temporary workers. Comprehensive immigration reform must include regulations on recruitment of temporary workers, due process and whistle-blower protections, and include a pathway to citizenship for these workers and all who are aspiring citizens. The time for reform is now, given that demand for more temporary workers is growing. Corporations and companies are asking for an increase in temporary worker visas.
These workers share common goals: They want to work hard and improve their lives. Their efforts help grow our economy, and in return, we should ensure they have the protections and opportunities afforded to U.S. citizens.
Learn more at Gregory Cendana’s Huffington Post article: Immigration Reform Must Uncover Recruitment Schemes of Temporary Workers.