H2B Visas – Did the new Regulations stop the abuse and other violations?

The H2B seasonal visa is considered to be the most abused type of visa. Typically workers coming on this visa are from low economic background and often uneducated. In many cases, employers can file for many workers on one petition, making this a lucrative business for fraudulent recruiters and agencies. The recent change in the regulations of the H2B visa (mainly barring recruiters from collecting fees), should change the program for the better, or so we hope.

Deborah Notkin, AILA’S past president recently came back from Mexico, meeting with Groups concerned with this program. Here is an excerpt from her Blog entry:

By far, everyone agreed that the problems began with “recruiters” who charged substantial sums (typically around $1,000) from each hopeful temporary worker and this money was rarely returned if there was not a visa available. This problem seems to reach epic proportions during a period of prosperity in the US when the H-2b visa cap of 66,000 workers doesn’t provide sufficient visas to fill needs. Under both Mexican law and now under the rules of the current H-2b regulations, recruiters are prohibited from charging fees to the prospective migrant workers but the judges found that enforcement needed to be stepped up.

We also concluded that workers needed to be given a notice of the terms of employment including salary and the workers stressed portability once they entered the US if they were employed by a non-compliant employer. This portability plan was recommended which would require the worker to find another position in the same field, such as construction, and to have a salary offer for no less than the required salary on the initial application.

In speaking to these workers and some government officials on both sides of the border who attended the program, it was clear that there are many compliant employers as well as employers who were ignorant of the H-2b rules and depended on the “legal services” of unscrupulous recruiters and employers who knowingly violated the law.

Many of the workers had spouses currently in the US working in apparently compliant H-2b employment situations, happy with the prevailing wages that were being paid. The workers who benefited most from the H-2b program were those who had located good employers and returned annually to work for the same employer on a seasonal basis.

Without adequate enforcement, the H-2b program can be a “hit or miss” proposition for those going to work for a specific employer for the first time. Not all recruiters, also referred as staffing staffing organizations are unscrupulous but unfortunately, some who have gotten involved in the H-2b program, on both sides of the border, are a big part of the problem.