- The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced that it has, for the second time in agency history, obtained a preliminary injunction against an employer for alleged H-2A visa abuse.
- DOL investigators say that Marin J. Corp. violated the labor provisions of the visa program when it "provided unsanitary and unsafe housing and working conditions to employees, including housing them in a former jail." The employer also failed to pay the wages required by its contract with the workers, the agency said.
- The injunction requires the company to improve housing and work conditions, pay undisputed back wages and maintain accurate payroll and time records. Marin J. Corp. consented to the injunction without admitting to the specific allegations of the complaint, DOL said.
DOL's announcement comes as several agencies work to implement the administration's plan to tighten immigration policies. A recently announced partnership between DOL and the U.S. Department of Justice has announced its intent to protect American workers from discrimination by employers that prefer to hire temporary visa holders instead.
DOJ prosecuted its first employer under the initiative in October, alleging that Colorado's Crop Production Services Inc. failed to hire at least three workers in 2016 because it instead hired temporary foreign workers with H-2A visas.
However, both this latest injunction and DOL's first one, obtained last year, have focused on the health and safety of workers with such visas. The H-2A visa program allows employers to petition the government to bring foreign nationals to the U.S. to fill temporary agricultural jobs. The program’s guidelines require that employers ensure workers have appropriate, clean and safe housing and working conditions and that they pay proper wages.
Last year's injunction targeted G Farms, its owner, and three other defendants, accusing them of providing dangerous and substandard housing to agricultural workers in El Mirage, Arizona. G Farms claimed in its H-2A visa application that it would provide shelter for its workers in mobile housing units. Instead, DOL alleged, it "appeared to have forced" its workers to sleep in converted school buses and semi-truck trailers, in violation of numerous safety, sanitation and fire code regulations. The buses and trailers also "appeared to be dangerously overcrowded" and had inadequate ventilation systems, which allowed daytime temperatures to exceed 100 degrees, it said.
Employers have long relied on visa holders for labor, but doing so will present extra challenges now, experts say. Speaking to HR Dive about the H-1B visa program, Jorge R. Lopez, chair of Littler Mendelson's Global Mobility and Immigration Practice Group previously said that businesses should ensure they're in a good position to defend the need for a foreign worker.