Then last week, they reached Senate floor. During debate of the Senate immigration bill, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said: “I fear very much that this J-1 program is being exploited by corporations like Hershey’s and McDonald’s as an effort to simply bring students from abroad to work at low-paying jobs in the United States.”
Severe exploitation of guestworkers has become commonplace across visa categories. As the Senate makes the final changes to its immigration bill in coming weeks, it needs to include strong worker protections for all guestworkers, regardless of visa program or industry. That includes whistleblower protections for workers who come forward to expose employer abuse, the ability for guestworkers to change employers without losing legal status and rules that prevent recruiters from profiting from exploitation.
It’s not just the future of guestworkers at stake — it’s the future of the tens of millions of U.S. workers alongside them.
Jennifer J. Rosenbaum is the legal and policy director of the National Guestworker Alliance.
Terri Henderson, 6, center, whose mother is El Salvador, attends a rally with members of Congress at Union Station's Columbus Circle to announce the Restore Opportunity, Strengthen, and Improve the Economy (ROSIE) Act on July 29, 2014. The legislation provides incentives for government contractors to pay a living wage and other benefits that would help low-income workers.