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Employers Look to Fill Seasonal Jobs, Advocates Look to Protect Workers in US

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Toribio Jimenez lies on his bed in his basement bedroom of the home where he and 10 other people live in Nashville, Tenn, Sept. 3, 2009. Jimenez was given a job removing asbestos in the U.S. through the H2-B nonagricultural guest worker program. The job was not the job that was promised to him through the program, and after being fired, Jimenez said he now has no option but to work illegally so he can pay back the money he borrowed to make the trip to the U.S. VOA
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You may have noticed: Much of the recent anti-immigration rhetoric in Washington most loudly comes from factions on the political right: H1B, H2B, it’s all about protecting American jobs.

But every step of the way, progressive groups — while pro-immigrant — are just as critical of foreign worker visas. Federal regulations on the books, they argue, are inherently insufficient to protect visa holders from abuse, whether through unwarranted recruitment fees, misrepresentation of job requirements, fraud or intimidation.

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The issue plagues potential recruits, but also well-meaning businesses that can’t find enough Americans willing to take seasonal jobs. In Cape Cod, Massachusetts and other areas of the country whose economic models are centered on five-to-six-month tourist seasons, the work of H2B visa-holders becomes essential to business owners.

Tyler Hayes, vice president of Cape Cod Restaurants, says his seasonal businesses — including Flying Bride Restaurant, shown here in April — would suffer without H-2B workers. After 20 years in the business, he says the children of foreign workers have begun to work for them. (R. Taylor/VOA)

Employers worry, too

Tyler Hayes, vice president of Cape Cod Restaurants, says he is fortunate that his seasonal foreign workforce, mainly from Jamaica, has created a “family atmosphere” during his 20-year tenure with the company.

“Now, their children are coming in, working for us,” Hayes said.

But while Hayes can only point to the well-being of his own workforce, he acknowledges that at least in recent years, abuse of workers has not been inconceivable.

“There used to be these companies that would send out these big petitions,” Hayes recalled. “They bring in 100 or 200 people, get them in the country and then farm them out.”

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In response, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) cracked down on abuse within the H2B system in 2015, both in order to prevent the exploitation of workers and to ensure U.S. workers’ awareness of available jobs.

Are regulations enough?

Elizabeth Mauldin, policy director at Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Inc. (CDM) — the Center for Migrant Rights — calls those protections basic, including the right to receive a contract before entering the U.S. and protection from being charged a recruitment fee.

But many aspects of those existing regulations, she argues, are difficult to ensure, absent greater transparency in the recruitment process.

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“It’s impossible to enforce a ban on charging workers fees,” Mauldin told VOA. “When workers are charged fees upfront, they are vulnerable to the same type of economic coercion across the board.” As a result, she notes, foreign workers become susceptible to wage theft and other abuses, regardless of their visa category.

Afraid to report

A 2013 report issued by CDM, whose findings were based on a survey and in-depth interviews with hundreds of H2B workers, found that 58 percent of respondents reported paying illegal recruitment fees, while 10 percent reported recruitment fraud — having paid a fee for a nonexistent job.

While there are mechanisms in place for foreign workers to report abuse, Mauldin argues that the disincentives are often too great.

“[Abusive employers] will say, at the end of the season, ‘If you pay those fees, then we will be more likely to recruit you in the future,’ or ‘If you don’t report these violations, then our recruiter will choose you again next year,’” Mauldin said.

Jane Nichols Bishop, who goes by the nickname “Mama Visa,” helps local companies secure annual H2B visas. “I like to joke and say we have more great white sharks than I have workers looking for a job on Cape Cod,” she says. VOA

Jane Nichols Bishop, founder and president of Peak Season Workforce, a family-run company that helps Cape Cod-area businesses secure H2B visas, says the mechanisms in place to prevent exploitation, including audits by the Department of Labor, have largely worked. But in cases where they do not, she says it’s in everyone’s interest that the infractions are reported.

“If there are abuses, we would like to see them caught,” Nichols said. “They give everyone who does this and who works at this very successfully a very bad name.”

Workers empower themselves

Despite ongoing reports of abuse nationwide, there is some hope for affected foreigners outside of federal regulations, thanks to the internet. A bilingual workers’ rights initiative, which Mauldin calls the Yelp for migrant workers, allows workers to review recruiters and share their experiences, and create a self-empowering community in the process. (VOA)

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Listening for Well-being : Arun Maira Talks About a Democracy in Crisis, Unsafe Social Media and More in his Latest Book

Maira asserts that we must learn to listen more deeply to 'people who are not like us' in our country because of their history, their culture, their religion, or their race.

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Arun Maira
Arun Maira (extreme left), during a public event in 2009. Wikimedia
  • Former Planning Commission member Arun Maira’s latest book is titled ‘Listening for Well-Being’
  • Maira observes that physical and verbal violence in the world and on social media is continuously growing
  • He also highlights the importance of ‘hearing each other’ in order to create truly inclusive and democratic societies

New Delhi, September 5, 2017 : Former Planning Commission member Arun Maira contends that “physical violence” in the real world and “verbal violence” on social media against people whom “we do not approve of” are increasing today. With such trends on the rise, the very idea of democracy finds itself in a crisis.

The solution?

“We need to listen more deeply to people who are not like us,” said the much-respected management consultant, talking of his latest book, “Listening for Well-Being”, and sharing his perspective on a wide range of issues that he deals with.

“Violence by people against those they dislike, for whatever reason, is increasing. It has become dangerous to post a personal view on any matter on social media. Responses are abusive. There is no respect for another’s dignity. People are also repeatedly threatened with physical violence.”

He said that gangs of trolls go after their victims viciously. “Social media has become a very violent space. Like the streets of a run-down city at night… not a safe space to roam around in.”

At the same time, streets in the physical world are becoming less safe too. “Any car or truck on the road can suddenly become a weapon of mass destruction in a ‘civilised’ country: in London, Berlin, Nice, or Barcelona,” Maira told IANS in an interview.

Maira said that with the rise of right-wing parties that are racist and anti-immigrant, there is great concern in the Western democratic world — in the US, the UK and Europe — that democracy is in a crisis.

In the US, for example, supporters of Donald Trump, Maira said, believe only what Trump says and watch only the news channels that share a similar ideology. On the other side are large numbers of US citizens who don’t believe what Trump says but they too have their own preferred news sources.

“They should listen to each other, and understand each other’s concerns. Only then can the country be inclusive. And also truly democratic — which means that everyone has an equal stake and an equal voice,” he noted.

In “Listening for Well-Being” (Rupa/Rs 500/182 Pages), Arun Maira shows his readers ways to use the power of listening. He analyses the causes for the decline in listening and proposes solutions to increase its depth in private and public discourse.

Drawing from his extensive experience as a leading strategist, he emphasises that by listening deeply, especially to people who are not like us, we can create a more inclusive, just, harmonious and sustainable world for everyone.

But it would be wrong to say that the decline in listening is only restricted to the Western world.

“We have the same issues in India too. We are a country with many diverse people. We are proud of our diversity. However, for our country to be truly democratic, all people must feel they are equal citizens.

“The need for citizens to listen to each other is much greater in India than in any other country because we are the most diverse country, and we want to be democratic. So, we must learn to listen more deeply to ‘people who are not like us’ in our country because of their history, their culture, their religion, or their race,” he maintained.

Maira also said that India is a country with a very long and rich history. And within the present boundaries of India are diverse people, with different cultures, different religions, and of different races.

“So, we cannot put too sharp a definition on who is an ‘Indian’ — the language they must speak, the religion they must follow, or the customs they must adopt. Because, then we will exclude many who do not have the same profiles, and say they are not Indians. Thus we can falsely, and dangerously, divide the country into ‘real Indians’ and those who are supposedly non-Indians. Indeed, such forces are rising in India,” he added.

Maira, 74, hoped that all his readers will appreciate that listening is essential to improve the world for everyone. He also maintained that it is not a complete solution to any of the world’s complex problems but by listening to other points of view, we can prevent conflict and also devise better solutions.

Born in Lahore, Arun Maira received his M.Sc. and B.Sc. in Physics from Delhi University’s St Stephen’s College. He has also authored two bestselling books previously, “Aeroplane While Flying: Reforming Institutions” and “Upstart in Government: Journeys of Change and Learning”. (IANS)