Limited protections provided by nonimmigrant work or guestworker visas increase the vulnerabilities of foreign workers to forced labor. The COVID-19 pandemic has only increased these vulnerabilities by making it more difficult for workers to leave abusive employers. All workers in the United States should be able to work for employers that implement worker-centered protections, including COVID-19 protections, be able to exercise their freedom of association rights without fear of retaliation, and to blow the whistle on abusive employers or and to leave dangerous working conditions without losing visa protections. ATEST recommends DOL implement the following policies to protect guestworkers:
● Increase protections for guestworkers so they are able to leave their employers if they do not implement and follow worker-centered COVID-19 guidelines or if employers engage in workplace violations such as wage theft or retaliation for speaking out against violations;
● Automatically extend worker visa authorizations should a guestworker be laid off due to COVID-19; and
● Work with Congress to reform the system of temporary visas to untie visas from employers, allowing workers to leave abusive and exploitative employers without fear of deportation. This situation has been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic but has been an issue since well before the pandemic.