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How OSHA’s New Authority Empowers Immigrant Workers

Every worker in America deserves to be safe on their job. It is a fundamental right. Workers should feel safe and not be exploited, pressured or forced to work for someone’s advantage.

In 2021, 1 out of every 6 reported cases of human trafficking in the U.S. involved labor trafficking – with the largest share of trafficked adults working in domestic, agricultural and construction industries. Migrant workers and Indigenous people are particularly vulnerable to forced labor.

We recognize our agency’s important role in helping combat labor trafficking and are committed to creating a safe and hazard-free work environment for ALL workers in the U.S.  

That is why for the first time, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration can issue certifications for U and T nonimmigrant status visas – in connection with our enforcement work – when the agency detects trafficking or other qualifying criminal activities, including murder, manslaughter, blackmail, extortion, felonious assault, involuntary servitude, peonage, obstruction of justice, witness tampering or perjury. We can also issue visa certifications if we detect the attempt, conspiracy or solicitation to commit any of the identified qualifying criminal activities. The Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division also has the authority to issue these visa certifications. On March 30, we marked our new authority with a kickoff event joined by worker advocates, labor organizers, union groups and consulates.

When a certification request meets all required criteria, OSHA will consider providing the requester a certification form that the individual seeking a visa can include in their visa application to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, an agency of the Department of Homeland Security. While our agency has the authority to issue U and T visa certifications, USCIS determines whether an applicant qualifies for the visa.

During our inspection process, we often encounter workers who may be less willing to participate in an investigation or report safety and health issues due to concerns about their immigration status or other social and cultural disparities. While we are committed to protecting all workers, immigration status is often used as a retaliation tool or threat against workers without citizenship status when they try to exercise their health and safety rights.

As our agency enforces job safety standards and helps reduce violations, it is essential that workers trust OSHA enough to bring concerns to the agency and participate in investigations regardless of their immigration status and not fear action against them.

Through this new effort, we want to help foster an environment that allows workers to be an active voice in their own safety.

Several union members and advocates who participated in the event supported the new initiative.

Myra Molina with the MassCOSH Workers’ Center has worked with many people in the immigrant community and also with domestic and construction workers in Boston. Molina said, “It is very important that OSHA starts to get involved with the T and U visas, because it strengthens our community and we feel safe knowing these visas exist.”

“I say to my fellow workers; you are not alone. OSHA is with us. We will always fight together to make this all strong and great for our immigrant community and our workers, which is the strength and the light of this country,” she added.

We are also expanding our outreach by getting the word out to employers and workers by providing wallet cards about workers’ rights in multiple languages as well as about signs of labor trafficking and how to help those who are exploited — or those who suspect trafficking may be happening around them — so they can know what to do and how to report it.

At OSHA, we want safety and health established as core values in every workplace. Our vision extends beyond setting standards, inspecting workplaces and providing training. OSHA’s goal is also to reach workers with social inequalities such as limited education opportunities, language barriers or whose immigration status may put them at risk of becoming a victim of trafficking or other crimes.

Learn how to recognize human trafficking and call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 if you or someone you suspect is in a trafficking situation or unsafe environment. To report concerns or to ask a question about workplace safety or health, call OSHA at 800-321-6742 or contact us online.


Natalicia Tracy is a senior policy advisor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Sourced from Us Dept of Labor

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