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Guest Worker Visas and Labor Trafficking: Weaknesses in the H2 Visa Programs

Exploitation is practically written into immigration and foreign labor policy

Original document: March 12, 2022

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Where immigration policy and anti-human trafficking initiatives meet, loopholes are often created that allow for the continued exploitation and trafficking of foreign laborers (Hepburn and Simon, 2013). Despite the passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in 2000, labor trafficking continues to be a major issue affecting workers in the United States, especially foreign workers present in the country on guest worker visas. While all individuals present on guest visas – including H1, J1, B1, F1, A3, and G5 visas – in the United States experience trafficking to some degree (Polaris, 2019), the vast majority of foreign labor trafficking victims hold H2 temporary work visas, with 87% of 3,600 identified trafficking victims between 2015 and 2019 holding either a H2-A agricultural or H2-B non-agricultural work visas (Polaris, 2020). 

“understanding how this large population of vulnerable workers fall victim to trafficking is … key … to reducing labor trafficking in the United States economy and promoting more equitable and fair trade practices abroad”

With over 250,000 foreign individuals entering the United States on a H2 visa between 2009 and 2013 alone (Government Accountability Office, 2013) and nearly 98% of identified labor trafficking victims in the United States having legal status (Maroukis, Iglicka, and Gmaj, 2011), understanding how this large population of vulnerable workers fall victim to trafficking, and thus how specifically the H2 visa program can be reformed to better protect them, is of key relevance to reducing labor trafficking in the United States economy and promoting more equitable and fair trade practices abroad

Literature Review

Loopholes in the H2-A / H2-B Visa Programs

Regulations for both the H2-A and H2-B programs exhibit weaknesses that can lead to abusive situations. Notable differences exist, however, between the two programs in terms of the most commonly exploited loopholes.

Guest Worker Visas and Labor Trafficking: Weaknesses in the H2 Visa Programs: Congressional Research Service
Guest Worker Visas and Labor Trafficking: Weaknesses in the H2 Visa Programs: Congressional Research Service

Polaris (2019) provides data demonstrating that workers who experience trafficking while in the United States on a H2-A agricultural work visa tend to suffer from the weaponization of the singular employer requirement of guest worker visas more than any other form of exploitation – that is, if they are terminated for any reason, they lose their legal status. This allows employers to threaten the laborers’ jobs with impunity, placing increasingly intolerable demands upon their workers while knowing the workers have no choice but to comply. The presence of this kind of abuse is further supported by the Congressional Research Service (CRS, 2020), which shows that the temporary and / or seasonal nature of the work increases pressure on the workers to stay in line.

Moreover, companies that have been found guilty of defrauding workers in this way are still able to seek guest worker visas to fill their labor needs, perpetuating repeat offenses.

H2-A visa holders are not guaranteed overtime pay, a maximum 40-hour workweek, minimum state and federal wages, safe housing standards, and the right to file suit over matters of substandard living and working conditions

Penwill (2013) argues that The H2-A visa program additionally exempts foreign nationals working in the ranching program from numerous protections otherwise legally afforded to visa holders. Penwill states that these protections include such rights as overtime pay, a maximum 40-hour workweek, minimum state and federal wages, safe housing standards, and the right to file suit over matters of substandard living and working conditions. Moreover, H2-A visa holders in the ranching program are subject to additional trafficking vulnerabilities due to their high dependence on their employer for both food and water. Further fueling this vulnerability is a critical lack of heating that many experience, for which they again find themselves dependent on their employers. This increases workers’ vulnerability to dehydration, frostbite, hypothermia, malnutrition, and foodborne illness, further putting them at the mercy of their employer’s goodwill.

“a starving sheepherder was so desperate for food that he began to eat a decomposing elk corpse”

Penwill cites a particular instance documented by the Department of Labor, in which a starving sheepherder was so desperate for food that he began to eat a decomposing elk corpse. Upon discovery, his employer/trafficker accused him of poaching and dropped him off at a local immigration office for deportation. 

Exploitation is practically written into immigration and foreign labor policy

Hepburn and Simon (2013) provide evidence that the agricultural industry itself perpetuates such abuse by opposing efforts to enact laws aimed at reducing labor trafficking. Indeed, the Congressional Research Service (2020) shows that exploitation is practically written into immigration and foreign labor policy, with employers being required to report to the Department of Homeland Security if a worker fails to show for work, absconds, or finishes their anticipated work early. When examined in detail, the very language of the relevant statutes makes this even more clear. For instance, Polaris (2020) cites a rule change put in place during the Covid-19 pandemic allowing foreign workers to stay in the country longer to “benefit U.S. agricultural employers and provide stability to the U.S. food supply chain.” 

Workers in the U.S. food supply chain

The Government Accountability Office (GAO, 2020) and the CRS (2020) lend credence to the position expressed by these authors that little attention is given to the welfare of laborers upon which employers and supply chains depend, even though issues of labor trafficking and exploitation are well-known to those writing the laws. The effect of such policies, perhaps even the intended effect, is not to prevent trafficking by an American employer, but rather to prevent workers from becoming undocumented migrants at almost any cost

Both Polaris (2019) and Hepburn and Simon (2013) show, by contrast, that those working on nonagricultural H2-B work visas are likely to suffer more from illegal recruitment and debt bondage schemes than their H2-A counterparts. Many such workers sell significant holdings or take out substantial loans to pay illegal recruitment fees for the opportunity to work in the United States. 

The pandemic weaponized the single employer requirement

Human trafficking has been affected by COVID-19
Human trafficking has been affected by COVID-19

The 2020 Covid-era rule mentioned previously affects these workers as it does agricultural workers. Ostensibly appearing to provide immigration relief during a global emergency, the rule change allows workers to extend their stay in the United States after their visa has expired by taking on a new employer. However, all necessary information about whether to take the potential new job – and thus all power in the relationship – remains with the employer offering the job.

[Editor’s note: from Polaris’ Labor Trafficking Red Flags in Latest Work Visa Program Changes blog post “There is nothing to help workers get the information they need to make decisions about whether to take new jobs with new employers – no public announcement portal, no job boards, no information about wages they might be paid or the work they might be doing. Indeed, there is nothing specified that workers are even told that they are eligible for an extended stay or a new job. All the information rests with employers. And so, of course, does all the power.” – bjc]

Polaris (2020) points out that the end result is if the laborer says “no” to any aspect of the new position, they risk their legal status.

The pandemic has therefore only increased the vulnerabilities foreign workers experience that predispose them to labor trafficking, with the weaponization of the single employer requirement becoming ever more predominant

Abuses under H2A/H2B Programs

A common feature underlying the situations of H2 visa holders who experience abuse is that their exploitation began in their home country before they even entered the United States. Maroukis, Iglicka, and Gmaj (2011) provide data showing that 44% of major companies report using job brokers to recruit foreign laborers abroad.  Related to this, Hepburn and Simon (2013) point out that many of these brokers charge application fees of the prospective laborers that are illegal under United States law. This process often results in laborers finding themselves in positions of debt bondage, owing loan sharks and others back home significant amounts of money

Labor trafficking H-2A program from Polaris' Andrea Rojas, Director of Strategic Initiatives
Labor trafficking H-2A program from Polaris’ Andrea Rojas, Director of Strategic Initiatives

Yet, this is not the only way in which abuse at the hands of foreign brokers promotes trafficking. The GAO (2015) reports that the kinds of exploitation experienced by laborers at the recruitment level include not only illegal recruitment fees but inadequate or misleading job information, recruitment fraud, and visa fraud. The GAO found that abuse during the recruitment process tends to have a “grooming” effect on labor trafficking victims during their employment, as those who experience abuse during their recruitment are substantially more likely to tolerate it during their employment as well. When workers arrive in the United States, their visas are legally dependent upon the good will of their employers, as mentioned previously. 

Employers hold all the power:

“all an employer has to do to get a worker deported and blacklisted from all future visa applications is to terminate them and report their presence to the Department of Homeland Security”

Other aspects of the H2 visa program are additionally structured in such ways that only provide further disincentives for reporting crimes that workers experience at the hands of their employers, lest they suffer from retribution. Polaris (2019) cites visa blacklisting and threats of violent retaliation against workers, their friends, or loved ones as activities that deter reporting.

Penwill (2013) also cites blacklisting as a predominant feature of many labor trafficking operations, as all an employer has to do to get a worker deported and blacklisted from all future visa applications is to terminate them and report their presence to the Department of Homeland Security.

Social and Cultural Factors

Additional socio-cultural factors have been identified as posing inherent problems for the identification and prevention of labor trafficking of foreign laborers holding United States visas. Cianciarulo (2007, p. 834) states that “the same cultural norms that presuppose a willingness to cooperate on the part of trafficking victims also define ‘force’ and ‘coercion’.” Cianciarulo (2007) goes on to say that many trafficking victims understand that they voluntarily came to the United States for employment with some degree of understanding of what conditions might be like – even in cases of sex trafficking, many victims come from countries where culture and economics make prostitution a woman’s only “choice,” despite this being recognized as no choice whatsoever in the United States.

Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement training does not cover identification of international trafficking victims

This internalized concept is only further reinforced by the fact that many victims’ first encounter with law enforcement comes either during a raid or during an arrest. This in turn reinforces the belief among victims that American law enforcement is either indifferent to their plight or is actively hostile to them. Likewise, federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) training consists of merely thirty-nine days of training, none of which covers the identification of international trafficking victims.

Video from official website of the Department of Homeland Security

State and local police academies nationwide similarly suffer from a lack of training on the issue.

Thus, officers are culturally programmed to not necessarily be either trained nor even interested in identifying foreign labor trafficking victims, but rather to approach such situations from a perspective of merely identifying and removing illegal immigrants.

Cianciarulo’s view on these cultural issues is reiterated by Hepburn and Simon (2013). 

Comparative Models and A Look Abroad

Insights into how best to reform the H2 visa program come from prior attempts to eliminate trafficking from similar immigration systems abroad. Throughout the Middle East, temporary nonimmigrant labor is managed through the kafala, or sponsorship, system

Miambo and Zubane (2021) describe the kafala system as one in which the employer takes on the legal responsibility for the temporary worker much as in the American H2 system, with the worker being dependent on maintaining employment by the lone employer, not being to seek alternative employment. They claim that the system has resulted in much abuse of workers over decades, particularly in Africa. While they acknowledge efforts in the Middle East to reform the system, they claim that Africa lags behind in such efforts. They recommend a multi-pronged approach including improved monitoring of migration patterns, strengthening of existing laws, and new agreements rooted in international labor standards.

Workers in Saudi Arabia

Robinson (2021) explains that the kafala system arose out of the growing need for cheap labor in the Arabic world and the abundance of migrants in the region desperate for work. She claims that it has become a system vastly steeped in tradition, culture, and unflinching social norms. However, the unequal power dynamic between the employer and laborer is additionally compounded by racial and gender inequity factors that discriminate against workers.

Countries such as Kuwait and Qatar have imprisoned female workers for being victims of rape by their employer

Robinson cites a 2020 UN report on racism in Qatar revealing that a laborer’s country of origin determined their wages and that host countries such as Kuwait and Qatar have imprisoned female workers for being victims of rape by their employer. Although Qatar implemented some positive changes to labor laws in 2020, Robinson cites evidence from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch that abuses persist and she recommends further bilateral agreements, with the Philippines as a potential role model for further positive reforms.  

From amnesty.org's Reality check: migrant workers rights with four years to Qatar 2022 World Cup
From amnesty.org’s Reality check: migrant workers rights with four years to Qatar 2022 World Cup

Ghani (2021) also addresses the changes implemented by Qatar in 2020, which attempted to reduce the inequity of the power dynamic between worker and their employer by giving laborers the right to change employment without the approval of their current employer. Prior to this change foreign laborers needed to present a no-objection certificate (NOC) signed by their employer before being allowed to change jobs for any reason. Nonetheless, following these legal changes workers have still been subject to many of the same intimidation, threats, and fraudulent legal action tactics at the hands of their sponsors that they were before the NOC requirement was lifted, preventing them from exercising the freedom granted to them by law. 

The kafala system and the H2 visa program have great commonality in relation to the shared nature of the sponsorship process. A critical problem related to H2 reform that is largely unexplored in the literature thus becomes apparent: merely passing anti-trafficking laws does not necessarily prevent or otherwise remedy trafficking if the underlying reasons for the occurrence of trafficking remain unaddressed.  This fact is pointed out by (Bush-Armendariz, Nsonwu, and Cook Heffron, 2018). 

Further evidence for this problem can be found by examining the restavék system in Haiti.

[Editor’s note: From Restavék Freedom “A restavék is an abused child in a family that is not his or her biological family. This child was given to a host family in the hope of a better life in exchange for doing chores. However, the child is vulnerable, and I can say that a child in restavék lives in a modern kind of slavery.” — Nadine, Haitian Child Advocate — bjc]

The restavék system relies on parents sending their children away to other, supposedly wealthier, host families as a child worker in exchange for housing, education, and a better life as the parents often cannot even afford to feed them. Beyond Borders, et al. (2014) claims that the harsh reality, however, is that the children are rarely paid for their efforts and often suffer abuse.  

“Eleven percent of host families report that they must send their own children to serve as restavéks”

Haitian President Jean-Bertrande Aristide says the restavék system is “so ingrained in Haiti that too many people do not even know they are breaking the law”

Indeed, they claim that eleven percent of host families report that they must send their own children to serve as restavéks in other households simply to make ends meet.

An image from Restavék Freedom’s website depicting a young girl’s labor

While Haiti formally outlawed the placement of children as restavéks in 2003, the history of the country which includes widespread slavery, foreign exploitation, extensive international debt, and political instability result in over sixty-one percent of the population living below the poverty line and in the worst living conditions in the western hemisphere. This results in the restavék system being, as former Haitian President Jean-Bertrande Aristide stated, “so ingrained in Haiti that too many people do not even know they are breaking the law” (Beyond Borders, et al, 2014, pp 3-4).

Abrams (2010) also criticizes the restavék system in Haiti, citing evidence of many children suffering physical, mental, and sexual abuse from their host families while living in slave-like conditions. Yet the system is so ingrained in Haitian culture that it is perhaps unsurprising that the Haitian government has expressed little interest in actively policing the trafficking and exploitation of the affected children

the more culturally, socially, and economically prevalent trafficking is, the less likely it is that the political willpower exists to address it

This is quite telling – the lessons of Haiti and Qatar seem to be that the more culturally, socially, and economically prevalent trafficking is, the less likely it is that the political willpower exists to address the abuse. 

American anti-capitalist graffiti

United States’ law establishes corporations with the explicit legal purpose to turn a profit

Attempts at so-called demand reduction initiatives have been widely accepted as means to counter sex trafficking in the United States but with much less enthusiasm when it comes to labor trafficking.

Indeed, the literature on demand reduction as it pertains to sex trafficking is rather vast and expansive, whereas only one article appears to so much as approach the topic when it comes to labor trafficking, in which the author does not use the term “demand reduction” at all.

“American corporations are inseparably connected to labor trafficking”

Reuland (2010) argues that the root of this problem is that American corporations are inseparably connected to labor trafficking, while American law is unreasonably slow to punish trafficking by corporations and does so with unequal standards.

Indeed, the law establishes corporations with the explicit legal purpose to turn a profit, often accomplished by offsetting costs as much as possible to maximize profit – a practice especially common in the United States.

With such traditions in place, American corporate culture both justifies and necessitates that companies only react to abuses to the extent that their discovery affects profits, in turn mitigating any legislative or regulatory pressures put in place to minimize trafficking. 

Analysis and Solutions

Equitable and fair practices that promote win-win opportunities for all stakeholders involved in trade and international relations are essential for ensuring continued relations and growth. 

Human trafficking is happening in America: American flag with workers
Human trafficking is happening in America: American flag with workers

At present, clear disparities exist in the United States between American employers and foreign laborers. 

While it is unlikely that any single policy implementation will result in a “silver bullet” effect, several proposals used in conjunction present a reasonable chance of success in reducing the likelihood that foreign laborers are exploited as recipients of H2 guest worker visas. The key to fixing the H2 system is to approach the problem from a holistic and integrated way, with solutions that build upon each other’s strengths to reinforce the overall system as opposed to merely patching holes in the fabric.

Thus, the need for comprehensive immigration reform becomes more apparent than ever when the issue of labor trafficking and exploitation through the H2 visa system is explored from a solutions-focused standpoint. 

To correct the problems in the H2 system, it is recommended as a first step that the collection and publication of information regarding jobs that will be advertised to foreign laborers include wages, number of positions, and any recruitment agencies that an employer plans to use (GAO, 2015). This would enable the Department of Labor to cross-reference potential applications for employers that are disbarred from hiring internationally due to previous abuse of migrant workers. Such an information dispersal system would also help identify recruitment agencies that charge illegal fees and would allow workers and their advocates to better understand what conditions they are agreeing to before they sign on to a job (GAO, 2015). However, such a solution comes with numerous potential logistical problems, including how to reach foreign audiences abroad while ensuring employer compliance with new mandatory disclosures of information. 

To this end, it is vital that foreign recruitment contractors that many large employers use be targets of reform, given the critical finding that workers who experience abuse in recruitment tolerate abuse in employment. To complement the aforementioned primary measure, it is recommended that this information collection include  prohibitions against foreign recruitment agencies charging any fee of workers and making employers responsible for all fees, while also a) requiring such recruitment contractors to register with the Secretary of Labor, b) ensuring that recruiters disclose complete terms and conditions about work in the United States, and c) prosecuting companies who utilize recruiters that charge workers fees to work in the United States (Polaris, 2019). Such reforms also reveal the need for expansion of the Department of Labor, which employs roughly the same number of investigators for wage violations as it did in 1938 despite the American workforce expanding more than sixfold in that time period, from 22 million to 135 million workers (UC Berkeley, 2021). However, such an expansion of the Department of Labor is likely to be quite costly, and unlikely to be a political success given the harsh realities of Covid-19, budget deficits, intense partisan political gridlock, and concentrated lobbying by the agricultural industry that has prevented effective anti-labor trafficking legislation from being passed previously (Hepburn and Simon, 2013).

Efforts from abroad offer lessons in how to reform the H2 visa system, and additionally highlight the effect that ingrained cultural practices have on even the most finely crafted and well-intentioned legislation. Indeed, longstanding cultural traditions that exploit laborers in Qatar and Haiti are comparable to those that exist in the United States, and reforming these traditions and social narratives will not be a quick process. Qatari efforts to reform the kafala system by allowing foreign laborers to change employers without the approval of their current employer present a unique approach to a system that mirrors the H2 visa system in a remarkable way. While it is far too soon to tell if Qatar’s efforts go far enough in dismantling the unfair power structure that keeps laborers effectively enslaved by their employers (Ghani, 2021), similar efforts may have a different effect altogether in a country with a different economy and culture such as the United States. 

Thus, the opportunity to reduce the highly unequal employer-employee power dynamic in the H2 system by removing the connection between an individual’s legal status and their continued employment by their initial employer remains a possible course of action. Further, this concept appears to be strongly supported by the literature given how frequently this line of sponsorship is heavily exploited by American employers of foreign labor, a trait which they share with their Qatari compatriots. However, again, there is a critical lack of evidence that the decoupling of domestic employer power over their foreign migrant employees reduces trafficking (Ghani, 2021), as well as the question as to what employees’ legal status will be dependent upon if not the continued employment by the company who initially hired them.

Yet, these unresolved questions about decoupling employer sponsorship and legal status may be mitigated by addressing another aspect of the immigration system that employers abuse: the deportation system. Deportation following reporting or detainment by immigration services is hardly instant, and numerous interviews and judicial hearings must take place before actual deportation occurs (Lonegan & The Immigration Law Unit of the Legal Aid Society, 2006). Nonetheless, many trafficking victims are routinely deported, never having been properly assessed for signs of trafficking (Penwill, 2013; Polaris, 2019). Including specific interview procedures and additional screening practices in deportation proceedings to ascertain whether individuals have been the victim of labor trafficking has an increased chance of revealing patterns of exploitation as well as employers who use the deportation system to dispose of “problematic” workers. 

Admittedly, the weakness of such methods is that they do nothing initially to prevent the trafficking of laborers, but ideally have a longer-term cumulative effect in identifying victims, providing them some form of relief, and then holding their traffickers accountable. If such methods are employed alongside increased penalties for labor trafficking crimes that are similar to penalties for sex trafficking violations, then these relatively simple changes will go a long way in dissuading businesses from using trafficked. Unfortunately, the American economy is so dependent on this source of cheap and readily exploitable foreign labor that there will likely be considerable pushback against such reforms from the business and agricultural sectors, as has been seen repeatedly during previous such attempts (Hepburn and Simon, 2013; see also Penwill, 2013).

A critical factor that underpins any attempt to address human trafficking is that of proper training for relevant personnel. As it pertains to labor trafficking of H2 visa holders specifically, the literature is clear that further training on this subject is warranted for both law enforcement and immigration officials (Cianciarulo, 2007). Moreover, this aspect of reform brings together all other solutions to the problem of labor trafficking and is instrumental to the success of any remedy. Both immigration and law enforcement officials interact daily with the populations that are the most vulnerable to trafficking, yet training on the issue of trafficking is most often provided as an afterthought, if at all – especially when it comes to labor trafficking. Perhaps one of the easiest fixes to the problem of labor trafficking of H2 visa holders involves simply making those who regularly interact with these individuals aware of the vulnerabilities this population frequently faces. 

While law enforcement culture is notoriously resistant to change (Cianciarulo, 2007), it is nonetheless surprising to see that so little education of officers on subjects of trafficking and exploitation has been made an essential part of their critical training, especially at the academy level where the issue appears to never even be broached despite the omnipresence of the problem. This is all the more remarkable considering that it has been more than twenty years since the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000 was made law. If material on the subject were taught at this level as well as during training for immigration enforcement (and other immigration roles), underlying cultural problems that contribute to labor trafficking would quickly begin dissipating and perceptions of American law enforcement would also likely improve. There are relatively few, if any, drawbacks to such a proposal, which makes the fact that such training does not already exist in a unform and widespread manner all the more peculiar.

The problem revealed by the literature of underlying cultural narratives that pave the way for labor trafficking to occur through the H2 visa system is more complex. Indeed, one of the key issues presented by any crime, but especially prevalent in matters of trafficking, is criminals’ adaptability to changing circumstances. Once one route or option is closed to a trafficker, they will find a way around it – unless the demand for their illicit goods is not high enough to justify the crime in the first place. To this end, incentives could be found and offered to employers so that they are not tempted to engage in labor trafficking in the first place to simply cut costs. However, such a proposal inevitably comes down to completely revolutionizing corporate culture and, ultimately, addressing human greed itself – naturally, there are limits on our capacity to achieve such laudable but ultimately unreachable goals. Additionally, the reader is cautioned to remember that employers already control a massive portion of the power and profit dynamics when it comes to relations with foreign workers – further incentivization should hardly be necessary. Indeed, it is largely due to these gross imbalances that reform to protect workers from exploitation is necessary in the first place. 

Nonetheless, significant advances can be made in this area through innovative training methods, awareness campaigns, and the restructuring of existing systems outside the immigration system to increase the risk for corporations who do choose to partake in labor trafficking. Increased cultural competency training for those who frequently interact with foreign populations in an enforcement role, locally calibrated to reflect the cultures that are most prevalent among these populations, can assist in eliminating the norms and bias that Cianciarulo identified as influencing terms such as “force” or “fraud.” Additional diversification of police forces will assist in overcoming many cultural barriers, with some substantial indications that increasing the number of women in uniform may have the most significant effect. This is due to women officers being perceived as more honest and compassionate than their male colleagues coupled with the fact that they make fewer discretionary arrests – especially of people of color (Harrington, 2000). The benefits of increased numbers of women in the police force extend not only to matters of labor trafficking, but to sex trafficking as well: female police officers tend to see better results for crimes against women and sex crimes than their male counter parts, and as female representation in the police force rises, increased reporting of these and related crimes also rises (Harrington, 2000). Unfortunately, such measures have their own extensive cultural barriers to overcome to even be considered as viable options in many cases. Such changes will additionally yield few short-term results. 


This project began with the intent to understand how foreign workers are exposed to labor trafficking in the United States H2 visa program, and how the program may be reformed to properly prevent such trafficking. It has been extensively documented that H2 visa holders are subjected to what often amounts to a “hospitality trap” wherein they are used, abused, and then discarded as a cheap and expendable form of labor (Penwill, 2013, p. 54). While these workers are subject to different trafficking methodologies due to whether their work is of an agricultural nature or not, shared similarities among these populations allow for the disruption of exploitative settings from a strictly legalistic perspective. Key to this strategy is understanding that those workers who are mistreated during recruitment for their labor are more likely to tolerate mistreatment during employment. Thus, protecting workers’ rights before they ever set foot in the United States becomes a priority of preventative work while reform efforts are better focused on the domestic front.

However, the ultimate problem that this research revealed is that combatting labor trafficking is not simply a matter of patching outdated systems of labor and passing new laws.

Instead, much more comprehensive reform is needed to address cultural and socioeconomic norms, practices, and standards that create demand for labor trafficking in the first place. Much can be learned about this much-needed process from international efforts to reform foreign labor management systems similar to the H2 visa program, yet to date very little research has been done or data gathered on the successes and failures of changes made to foreign systems, preventing this analysis from occurring. In the end, however, it becomes clear that only a holistic approach can ensure that laborers are treated fairly with proper incentives for all stakeholders being offered.

To this end, the research revealed that the entire H2 system must be comprehensively overhauled while the larger culture in which the system is rooted is interrogated and challenged at every opportunity, resulting in an interwoven tapestry of safeguards and precautions to project a web of protection for workers. Integral to this systematic reform is a better-informed and trained regulatory and enforcement body that perceives labor trafficking as the threat it is. Yet, substantial evidence indicates that this authority largely needs to be overhauled in and of itself. Indeed, this research indicates that such vital reforms are more necessary than previously realized due to these systems’ critical and deeply symbiotic role in human trafficking in the United States.

Future research on the subject needs to be done as to reveal the cause or causes of the slow adoption of fundamental training of law enforcement and immigration officials on human trafficking, especially labor trafficking. Additionally, there is a dearth of research examining demand reduction and labor trafficking even at the conceptual level. Given the success of demand reduction efforts in combatting sex trafficking, this certainly appears to be an area ripe for future investigative efforts. Moreover, any research that can shed light on how to better address the fundamental socio-cultural undercurrents that give rise to all forms of trafficking are likely to prove to be more valuable than their weight in gold.


Abrams, Jennifer S. 2010. “The Kids Aren’t Alright: Using a Comprehensive Anti-Trafficking Program to Combat the Restavek System in Haiti,” Temple International & Comparative Law Journal 24 (2): 443–76.

Beyond Borders, Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, LiLiLi! Read, Université de la Fondation Dr. Aristide, University of Miami School of Law Human Rights Clinic, “The Plight of Restavek (Child Domestic Servants),” UN Human Rights Committee, 8 and 9 October, 2014.

Busch-Armendariz, Noel Bridget., Nsonwu, Maura, & Cook Heffron, Laurie, Human trafficking: Applying research, theory, and case studies, Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publishing, 2018. 

Cianciarulo, Marisa Silenzi, “Modern-Day Slavery and Cultural Bias: Proposals for Reforming the U.S. Visa System for Victims of International Human Trafficking,” Nevada Law Journal, Vol. 7, Issue 3 (Summer 2007), pp. 826-840

Congressional Research Service, “H-2A and H2-B Temporary Worker Visas: Policy and Related Issues,” June 9, 2020.

Ghani, Faras, “Labour Law Changes: Are Qatar’s Migrant Workers Better Off?Al Jazeera, March 15 2021.

Government Accountability Office, “H-2A and H-2B Visa Programs: Increased Protections Needed for Foreign Workers,” March 2015, 

Government Accountability Office, “H-2B Visas: Additional Steps Needed to Meet Employers Hiring Needs and Protect U.S. Workers,” April 2020.

Harrington, Penny E. Recruiting and Retaining Women: A Self Assessment Guide for Law Enforcement. Los Angeles, CA: National Center for Women and Policing, 2000.

Hepburn, Stephanie and Rita Simon, “Human Trafficking Around the World: Hidden in Plain Sight,” New York: Columbia University Press, 2013.

Lonegan, Bryan, and The Immigration Law Unit of the Legal Aid Society, “Immigration Detention and Removal: A Guide For Detainees and Their Families,” February 2006.

Maroukis, Thanos, Krystyna Iglicka, Katarzyna Gmaj, “Irregular Migration and Informal Economy in Southern and Central-Eastern Europe: Breaking the Vicious Cycle? International Migration 49 no. 5 (2011): 129-156

Miambo, Victor H. and Sphephelo Zubane, “No Rights, No Freedom: The Kafala System and the Plight of African Migrants in the Middle East.” Journal of Arts and Social Sciences 18, 1(6), April, 2021-June

Penwill, Alex, “H-2A Guestworker Visa Program: Facilitator of Exploitation and Labor Trafficking in the U.S. Ranching IndustryJournal of Public & International Affairs Vol. 23 (2013), pp. 52-73

Polaris, “Human Trafficking on Temporary Work Visas: A Data Analysis 2015 – 2017,” January 2019.

Polaris, “Labor Trafficking Red Flags in Latest Work Visa Program Changes,” June 23, 2020.

Robinson, Kali, March 2021, “What is the Kafala System?Council on Foreign Relations, March 23, 2001.

Reuland, Thomas, “A Revised Approach to Reducing Labor Abuses and Human Trafficking,” University of Nebraska at Lincoln, October 2010.

University of California at Berkeley, “No Rights, Low Wages, No Service: How Increased Violations of Workers’ Rights in 2021, Coupled with High Harassment and Low Wages and Tips, Have Pushed Workers to Leave the Service Sector,” September 2021.



This “Eyes on Trafficking” story is reprinted from its original location.


PBJ Learning is a leading provider of online human trafficking training, focusing on awareness and prevention education. Their interactive Human Trafficking Essentials is used worldwide to educate professionals and individuals how to recognize human trafficking and how to respond to potential victims. Learn on any web browser (even your mobile phone) at any time.

More stories like this can be found in your PBJ Learning Knowledge Vault.



This “Eyes on Trafficking” story is reprinted from its original online location.


PBJ Learning is a leading provider of online human trafficking training, focusing on awareness and prevention education. Their interactive Human Trafficking Essentials online course is used worldwide to educate professionals and individuals how to recognize human trafficking and how to respond to potential victims. Learn on any web browser (even your mobile phone) at any time.

More stories like this can be found in your PBJ Learning Knowledge Vault.