Immigration Policy Impacts Trafficking Statistics

Image Credit: Polaris Project Human Trafficking on Temporary Work Visas: A Data Analysis 2015-2017
Image Credit: Polaris Project Human Trafficking on Temporary Work Visas: A Data Analysis 2015-2017

Polaris has recently investigated a structural cause into the increased trafficking statistics within the USA. From 2015-2017, around 50% of all victims who reported labour trafficking to the National Human Trafficking Hotline had legal employment visas, of whom 797 had specifically Temporary Work Visas (H-2A, H-2B). From their research, 75% of the victims were recruited for valid job offers within a variety of industries including agriculture, domestic work, landscaping, hospitality, restaurants, and construction.

This suggests that there is a disconnection between the legal framework that a temporary visa provides and the reality of employment, where a grey area allows employers to exploit their foreign workers. Indeed, Polaris’ latest report details how firstly, labour recruiters for the USA demand an array of complex fees and hidden costs often amounting to disproportionate debt for the victim. Furthermore, many of the visa holders are vulnerable to exploitation because they are legally bound to a single employer to uphold their right to remain in the USA. This often leads to a form of debt bondage to their employer because by loosing their job they are imminently subject to deportation, which can be used to blackmail and demand on-going labour.

Instead of the cause of this trafficking being rooted in the recruitment process that usually occurs abroad, the issue posed takes place at the next stage once employment is confirmed within a domestic situation. This must be looked at within the context of the USA border policy, which tends to be outward focused in an attempt to control inward trafficking of drugs, weapons and humans. However, these statistics suggest there is an oversight made domestically, with a need for regulation of labour policies for immigrants. Polaris suggests the need for transparency and supports the proposed Visa Transparency Anti-Trafficking (VTAT) bill to address this issue.

For the full Polaris Report on Human Trafficking on Temporary Work Visas, read here.