Know your rights as temporary workers in the US

Ask the US Embassy

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

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Q: I am thinking about applying for a visa to go to the United States as a temporary worker. I am worried, though, about being so far from home and about how I will be treated. What should I expect?

A: Great question! The temporary worker programme is very important to the United States, and making sure people know their rights as workers and how to get help if they need it is one of our top priorities.

In fact, under United States law, consular officers must explain these rights to applicants when they issue certain classes of visas — this is known as the Wilberforce law.

Q: What are my rights under Wilberforce? Whom does it apply to?

A: Wilberforce protections apply to applicants for H (Temporary Workers), J (Exchange Visitors, including Summer Work-Travel Students), and B-1 Domestic Workers, as well as some less common visa types. You will receive a pamphlet with your visa that explains your rights in detail. The highlights include the right to:

• Be paid fairly;

• Be free from discrimination;

• Be free from sexual harassment and sexual exploitation;

• Have a healthy and safe workplace;

• Request help from union, immigrant and labour rights groups;

• Leave an abusive employment situation.

Q: Tell me more about laws governing my pay.

A: If you work in the United States, US labour laws govern your hours and, in some cases, how much you are paid. Any employment contract you sign must comply with the law.

This means that if you work more than 40 hours per week, you may be entitled to overtime pay of one and a half times the amount of your hourly wage. You must be paid for all of the work you do, and cannot be forced to work longer than your contract stipulates.

Your employer may deduct some money from your pay for things you have chosen, such as health insurance or union dues, and legal obligations such as federal and state income taxes. Other deductions may be illegal, such as the cost of safety equipment, required tools, or recruitment fees. For some visa categories, housing must be provided free of charge.

Q: What do you mean by a healthy and safe workplace?

A: There are many aspects of workplace safety, but let's start with the most basic. If your employer provides you with housing, it should be clean and safe, and you must be allowed to leave your housing during non-working hours. You have a right to clean drinking water, and bathrooms should be clean and accessible. You should tell your employer about an injury or illness as soon as possible, as your employer may be obligated to pay for your medical costs. Ask for copies of any paperwork about your condition if you go to a doctor, clinic or hospital.

If you work with pesticides or dangerous chemicals, you have the right to soap and water, and to wash your hands as needed. This includes coming into contact with vegetables or fruit that is treated with such chemicals.

Additionally, you have a right to know and understand the chemicals you are working with, and your employer must provide you with paid training on workplace chemicals. You must also be notified about when and where they are spraying pesticides to help you avoid accidental exposure.

Q: What if I don't like the job? Can I quit?

A: If you are in an abusive or unsafe situation, the most important thing is for you to seek safety. You do not have to stay in your job if your employer is abusing you. Your visa status will no longer be valid if you leave your employer, but you may be able to change your visa status or employer. You may need to leave the United States to do so. Even if your visa status is not valid, help is available for you.

Please note that if you leave your employer for reasons other than abuse, such as that there was not enough work to do or that you just didn't like the work, you must return to Jamaica promptly because otherwise you are out of status on your visa. Not doing so may have negative consequences for future visa applications.

Q: I have concerns about how I am being treated. What should I do?

If you have questions or concerns about how you are being treated, please call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888. This call is free from anywhere in the United States. To download a comprehensive brochure about your rights under the law, which contains various resources for help related to unpaid wages, discrimination, or other rights as articulated above, please visit https://travel.state.gov/content/visas/en/general/rights-protections-temporary-workers.html. The department has also prepared an informational video, which complements the Wilberforce Pamphlet. It can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ji-f3dkeOIE&feature=youtube.

You can find more information about how to travel to the US on our website, https://jm.usembassy.gov/ Keep on top of Embassy news on our Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/USEmbassyJamaica/ and by following @USEmbassyJA on Twitter . We also answer general visa questions on our Facebook and Twitter pages.

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