Migrant workers with H-2B visas have long faced an impossible—and fundamentally unjust—choice. When employers violate their rights, the law forces workers to decide whether to keep working for their designated employer or lose their visas and income.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had an opportunity to fix this problem. But it did not. Just as it did in last year’s temporary final rule, DHS temporarily gave workers with H-2B visas the legal ability to leave one job for another. This protection—visa portability—is a crucial part of the worker-centered labor migration model we’ve long advocated for. Visa portability should allow workers to quickly and seamlessly leave dangerous and unfair working conditions for another job without sacrificing their income. But DHS’s current rule keeps power in the hands of employers and recruiters: it prevents workers from changing jobs without first getting a new employer to petition for them. Since DHS first implemented its flawed portability rule last year, CDM has not spoken with a single worker with an H-2B visa who has successfully left an abusive workplace and transferred to a safer one.
DHS will soon issue another, more comprehensive rule on H-2B visas. In this new rule, DHS should take employers and recruiters out of the portability equation. It should give workers with H-2B visas the power to seamlessly transfer from an abusive employer to a new employer. With meaningful visa portability, workers will face fewer risks when they speak out about abuse. Beyond portability, and instead of expanding this program, the Administration should be striving to strengthen worker protections.