.- An immigrant rights group hopes the Maryland legislature will protect migrant workers in the state from labor trafficking and fraud by banning recruitment fees, licensing recruiters for jobs, and prohibiting discrimination in recruitment.
It is fairly common for migrant workers to be charged a fee by a recruiter to be matched with a job in the United States.
But some migrants have reported paying the fee for a promised job that does not really exist. In other scams, a job is real, but the work is very different than the initial job description.
Rachel Micah-Jones, founder and executive director of Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Inc., a transnational migrant rights organization based in Mexico and the United States, explained to CNA that a labor trafficking and fraud bill is important for Maryland because of the number of foreign workers in the state.
Michah-Jones says a labor-trafficking bill could create a system of licensing for recruiters, and a registry of recruitment agencies. This bilingual registry would be a way for a potential worker to verify that the job they are being offered actually exists and that the terms of employment are what they are expecting. This registry would also be a way to track employers, create a level of oversight, and crack down on labor trafficking.
Micah-Jones spoke Dec. 6 on a panel at the USCCB’s Migration and Refugee Services “Justice for Immigrants” conference held in Arlington, Va.
While similar bills have been passed in California and New Jersey, Micah-Jones highlighted the importance of this legislation for the Old Line State. Maryland is “a big destination state” for international workers, she explained, and has “the full alphabet soup” of visa holders who work in industries across the state.
“This bill is really important because it would prohibit the charging of fees for workers who are recruited to work in the state of Maryland,” she said. These recruitment fees make migrant workers more vulnerable to abuse, as they are indebted to their employer. Other times, these workers may be discouraged or afraid to speak out about abuse on the job due to fear of losing their visa.
These types of fees “need to be eradicated,” said Micah-Jones. Nearly 37,000 guest workers came to work in Maryland in 2016. The largest percentage of these workers were in the United States on J-1 visas, and worked as au pairs, camp counselors, or in internships.
In addition to the elimination of fees, a bill could also add transparency to the international labor recruitment system, which Micah-Jones said is “crucial” for the prevention of fraud.
Micah-Jones thinks that the passage of such a bill would be a “huge step forward” to increasing transparency and accountability for recruiters who are bringing workers to Maryland.
“Many workers are recruited for jobs that oftentimes that don’t exist, (even) after paying for those jobs,” she added.