Legal protection for farm workers working in the US
Ask The US EmbassyTuesday, February 09, 2016
Q: I travel on the farm work programme every year and I know that this year I will need to go to the United States Embassy in Kingston to apply for an H-2A visa before I can travel. Assuming all goes well, I would then be a foreigner living and working in the United States. As such, I wonder if there are laws in place to protect my rights there even though I am not a citizen or resident. If so, what are they?
A. Good question! The United States Government is committed to combating human trafficking and labour rights violations. In fact, US law covers everyone working in the United States and requires that all workers be treated and paid fairly according to US labour law no matter if they are citizens or on a temporary working visa.
In the visa interview at the US Embassy, the consular officer will advise Jamaican H-2A workers of their rights and protections as workers in the United States, thus reducing their vulnerability to possible employment- and recruitment-based abuses. In addition, because the process still begins with US employers petitioning the US Government for approval to seek foreign workers, each petitioning employer has been vetted by US authorities before being authorised to bring workers from Jamaica.
After the interview, the consular officer also will give anyone who receives a visa allowing them to work temporarily in the United States a pamphlet that explains in detail their rights as a worker in our country. The pamphlet includes toll-free telephone numbers that can be called for information and assistance in the United States. You can read this pamphlet online at:
Like the vast majority of American citizens in the labour force, the vast majority of travellers working temporarily in the United States are treated legally by their employers. US Federal law, Public Law 110-457, which is better known as the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Act, requires consular officers to issue this pamphlet to applicants who receive work visas informing them of their rights in order to honour the rule of law and uphold the dignity of all who come to the United States.
There are several key rights that visitors coming to work or study temporarily in the United States have. One is the right to be paid the minimum wage in the United States. This includes not just the Federal minimum wage, but also the minimum wage for the state in which they will be working. Female workers in the United States cannot be treated differently or badly because they are women or because they are pregnant.
Some of the other rights that temporary workers have include: not to be held in a job against their will; to keep their passport and documents in their own possession; to report abuse without retaliation; to request help from unions, immigrant and labour rights groups; and, if necessary to seek justice in US courts. The Wilberforce pamphlet explains all of these rights in some detail, and provides instructions for redress if the worker feels his/her rights are compromised.
As always, the US Embassy wishes you a pleasant, safe and enjoyable journey!
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