Each year, thousands of workers come to the U.S. temporarily under the H-2B Visa Program to work in a variety of industries that need extra help during peak seasons, such as hospitality, amusement and entertainment, food processing, landscaping and construction. These workers are uniquely vulnerable to workplace abuses because their ability to work in the United States is directly tied to their jobs.
Due to a fear of losing their jobs or reprisal based on their immigration status, workers with H-2B visas may be less likely to file complaints or speak out against workplace violations. As the U.S. makes a historic economic recovery from the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is critical that we continue to focus on ensuring that the rights of workers with H-2B visas are protected.
Just like U.S. workers, workers with H-2B visas have important rights that help ensure minimum labor standards and protect their wages and working conditions. Among other obligations specific to the H-2B visa program, employers must pay locally prevailing wages, pay for transportation to and from the jobsite from the country of origin, pay visa and related fees, and inform workers in writing about the work conditions.
Unfortunately, unscrupulous employers sometimes take advantage of these workers’ vulnerabilities. Sometimes employees arrive at the jobsite and realize that the employer has failed to comply with the terms of their contract. Employers sometimes fail to reimburse workers for travel to and from the United States or fail to count and pay for all hours of work. When workers do file complaints or otherwise speak out, some employers have tried to intimidate those workers through harassment, threats of deportation or other acts of retaliation.
The Wage and Hour Division is taking important steps to ensure that workers protected by the H-2B visa program know their rights and know where to turn for help, and that employers are aware of their obligations. Recently, we published these resources:
This bulletin reviews how employing H-2B workers in an unapproved job classification harms the United States and H-2B workforce, and the sanctions and remedies that we may implement to address those harms. Misclassifying workers in an unapproved job classification may lead to workers being paid an improper wage rate, and it undermines efforts to recruit U.S. workers.
This bulletin provides guidance on employers’ obligations to pay overtime to workers protected by the H-2B Visa Program provisions, as most of these workers are entitled to overtime pay at a premium rate.
This chapter provides policy guidance on employer obligations and worker rights provided by the H-2B Visa Program, and serves as a resource for employers seeking to do the right thing and for workers who think their rights may have been violated.
We’re also continuing to enforce worker protections under the H-2B Visa Program. For example:
A Vermont roofing company paid over $97,000 in back wages and more than $28,000 in penalties for multiple violations, including failing to pay the required rate for roofers and failing to reimburse workers for transportation costs to and from the United States.
In New York, two commonly owned hotel management companies paid $210,000 in back wages and civil money penalties after investigators found that the employer failed to hire U.S. applicants for the job opportunities as required, underpaid housekeeping workers, employed H-2B workers in construction and maintenance duties without paying the corresponding prevailing wage rate, and failed to inform workers of housing costs that would be deducted from their pay, among other violations.
Litigation against a Texas-based horse trainer resulted in a judgment of over $600,000 in back wages, damages and penalties after a New York-based investigation revealed that the employer failed to properly pay both H-2B workers and U.S. workers who cared for thoroughbred horses.
In Minnesota, a lawn care and snow removal company paid $118,950 in back wages and $38,688 in liquidated damages, and was debarred from participation in the H-2B visa program after committing several violations, including requiring H-2B workers pay up to $800 to the employer as a condition of employment, making deductions for housing that resulted in a profit for the employer, and failing to reimburse travel to and from the United States.
Workers with H-2B visas deserve all of the pay and protections the law requires. The Wage and Hour Division encourages employees, stakeholders and employers to examine the newly published guidance and call the agency’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE for assistance. Learn more about the H-2B program.
Jessica Looman is the acting administrator for the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division. Follow the agency on Twitter: @WHD_DOL.