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Blumenthal, Cruz, Frankel, and Deutch Introduce Bipartisan, Bicameral Bill to Bring Transparency to Temporary Worker Visa Programs and Combat Human Trafficking

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Today, on National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) and U.S. Representatives Lois Frankel (D-FL) and Ted Deutch (D-FL) introduced the bipartisan Visa Transparency Anti-Trafficking Act. The bill seeks to prevent human trafficking by bringing more openness to the foreign temporary worker visa process. The legislation is also co-sponsored in the House by U.S. Representatives Randy Weber (R-TX), Jim Himes (D-CT), Ted Poe (R-TX), and David Schweikert (R-AZ).

“Modern day slavery is all too rampant as a result of lax enforcement and inadequate data, which this measure seeks to correct. This bipartisan measure will close major gaps in public government data about non-immigrant visas. The purpose of this measure is to educate the public, strengthen law enforcement’s ability to prevent human trafficking, and make sure key data are reported about every non-immigrant visa category that permits employment. Predatory recruiters and complicit employers are the bad guys – and the government is their silent partner unless it does everything possible to shine a light on this horrific practice of human trafficking. Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” said Blumenthal.

“Too many foreign workers are being exploited, forced into sex trade and abusive labor practices. This bill will increase the transparency of workers’ activity and whereabouts, allowing human rights organizations to spot patterns of human trafficking and assist law enforcement in stopping what amounts to modern day slavery,” said Frankel.

“Across the globe, far too many people are in bondage,” Cruz said. “Human trafficking is a scourge on our country, and all of us must stand together to stop this grotesque abuse. It is nothing less than the face of evil; it completely tears down the rights of its victims, forcing them into modern-day slavery. There is zero tolerance for those who engage in the horrific practice of human trafficking. I am proud to introduce this bill alongside Senator Blumenthal, to shine a light on the human trafficking abuses that occur within our nonimmigrant visa system. Transparency and information sharing will empower law enforcement and vigilant communities to better identify potential victims and rescue them from predatory employers. I am hopeful that Congress will pass this bill to hold offenders accountable and bring justice to their victims.”

“Right under our noses, human traffickers are exploiting major gaps in our visa program,” said Deutch. “With so many different government agencies processing visas, our immigration system is failing to detect human traffickers who are abusing the system. By sharing the data between agencies and with the public, we can build a coalition to crack down on human trafficking and save trafficking victims from this modern form of slavery.”

Blumenthal, Cruz, Frankel, and Deutch announced the legislation today on a conference call with trafficking survivor Shandra Woworuntu.

“I came to the U.S. through Indonesian recruitment agency who promised me 6 months’ employment at a hotel in Chicago after I paid $3000 for the recruitment fee. They obtained the paper work to get the visa. The fact is, I didn't work in the hotel as promised. Instead, I was kidnapped, my passport was taken, the traffickers asked me to pay $30,000 and forced me to be sex slave in the underground sex business in New York, Connecticut and surrounding areas until I escaped. I believe intervention without prevention in combating human trafficking and exploitation is not a complete solution,” said Woworuntu. “We need more transparency and better data about workers who come to the U.S., and the Visa Transparency Anti Trafficking Act will be perfect to prevent temporary workers who come to the U.S. from being exploited and trafficked like me.”

Millions of foreign individuals are authorized to work in the United States every year on temporary, non-immigrant visas. Abusive employers are bringing foreign workers to the United States with the expectation of legitimate jobs, only to coerce them into unbearable conditions, including sex slavery and domestic servitude. Federal data on these temporary work visas is not uniformly reported and not available to the public, impeding law enforcement’s efforts to crack down on this form of human trafficking. The Visa Transparency Anti-Trafficking Act provides a straightforward solution to gaps in reporting, by requiring a standardized reporting system, expanding reports to include critical information, and providing governments, advocates, and the public with the data needed to develop trafficking prevention programs.

“The marketplace of sex trafficking continues to grow,” said Poe. “Often times, a trafficked victim is brought into the United States under false pretense, on a non-immigrant visa. Upon entering our country, the victim expects to make an honest living, only to find themselves a victim of human trafficking. This legislation gives law enforcement the necessary transparency and tools by creating standardized reporting procedures for nonimmigrant visas. This will help identify victims of trafficking and allow law enforcement to go after the trafficker themselves. It’s time to put an end to modern day slavery.”

“No one, under any circumstance, should ever be subject to human trafficking. The stories we hear of foreign workers sliding through the cracks in this area are troublesome. America is a land of hope and opportunity – calling many to the American dream. With this bill, we are streamlining the Homeland Security reporting system, making public relevant information, and ensuring that companies and organizations are held accountable for their actions. Human trafficking of nonimmigrant workers is an underreported crisis, and the bill my colleagues and I have put forth is aimed at ending these egregious acts,” said Weber.

“Human Trafficking is a reprehensible crime, one where victims can rarely seek the help they need,” said Schweikert. “The Visa Transparency Anti-Trafficking Act will help create standardized, publicly available, reporting requirements that will then be shared with the public. The power of accessible information will enable governments, advocates, NGOs, and the public to aid these human trafficking victims, while also pursuing perpetrators. I am proud to once again introduce this great piece of legislation.”

“It has become clear that our nation’s fragmented, often irrational visa system has enabled heinous crimes like human trafficking to occur. All too often, foreign workers are promised legitimate work in the United States only to be pushed into a life of forced labor and servitude,” Himes said. “We cannot fight what we do not measure. Our bill will shine a light on the visa process, giving law enforcement the data they need to start the morally critical job of combatting human trafficking while respecting the privacy of its victims,” said Himes.

The Visa Transparency Anti-Trafficking Act would:

  • Create a standardized reporting system across all non-immigrant visas that authorize work, and require that the reported information be made public;
  • Mandate that critical information be included in the public report in order to help advocacy groups and the public identify signs that a foreign workforce is demographically distinct from its domestic counterpart – which may indicate an underlying problem, such as employment discrimination, or worse, human trafficking;
  • Give governments, advocates, and the public the data needed to develop targeted trafficking prevention outreach programs to educate workers domestically and abroad.

The Visa Transparency Anti-Trafficking Act is also supported by AFL-CIO, Alliance to End Slavery & Trafficking (ATEST), American Federation of Teachers, Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking (CAST), Economic Policy Institute, Freedom Network, Free the Slaves, Futures Without Violence, International Labor Recruitment Working Group (ILRWG), Justice in Motion, National Domestic Workers Alliance, National Employment Law Project, National Guestworker Alliance, Polaris, Safe Horizon, Service Employee International Union (SEIU), Southern Poverty Law Center, UniteHERE, Verité, and Vital Voices.

“The media have reported countless cases of worker abuse, but little else is known about guestworker programs, despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of guestworker visas are issued every year,” said Daniel Costa, Director of Immigration Law and Policy Research at the Economic Policy Institute.  “That makes it difficult to craft rational policy solutions to improve how the programs are managed and to ensure that the labor standards of guestworkers—and of Americans who work in major guestworker occupations—are protected. The dearth of information also results in an outsized role for corporate interest groups that spend millions lobbying to expand and deregulate guestworker programs, because it’s difficult for lawmakers to verify claims about how guestworker programs impact the economy and labor market.”

“Based on reports of labor trafficking and labor exploitation made to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, Polaris knows that the abuse of temporary visa holders is undeniable,” said Joe Racalto, Polaris’s Senior Policy Advisor. “To truly understand the exploitation occurring within the United States’ legal visa system, we need more data, more records, and more information. This legislation will be critical to developing pointed interventions that will help end the abuse of temporary visa holders, and we are incredibly grateful for these Congressional leaders in making it a priority.”

Justice in Motion Executive Director, Cathleen Caron, said, “Employers make a mockery of the government when they use temporary foreign worker visas as a vehicle for human trafficking. We need to know how employers are misusing the system so we can stop this appalling abuse.  This bill will shed light on a virtually clandestine system. We applaud the sponsors for this insightful bill that will be a game changer for how employers use the temporary work visas.”