Each year, hundreds of thousands of Mexicans arrive in the United States with temporary work visa programs, including J-1, H-1B, H-2 and TN, under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The United States depends substantially on the work of Mexican migrant workers to forge, maintain, and grow key NAFTA-related industries, including agriculture and food processing, among others. The numbers speak for themselves; in the year 2015, the U.S. government issued a total of 108,144 H-2A visas and 69,684 H-2B visas. Mexican nationals accounted for 94 percent of the beneficiaries of H-2A visas and 74 percent of H-2B visas. In other words, more than 153,000 Mexican workers traveled to the US under the H-2 visa programs that year.
Migrant workers are especially vulnerable to rights violations due to the lack of accountability and inadequate enforcement of labor protections. The current process has left workers waiting without justice or even a response from the governments for over a decade.
In the past, Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Inc. (CDM), its allies and the leaders of the Migrant Defense Committee have filed two official complaints under the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC), an agreement parallel to NAFTA, following the U.S. government’s failure to uphold the principle of non-discrimination during the recruitment process in Mexico and to monitor compliance with its own labor laws. However, responses from the government have been disappointed as they have taken too long and have not taken into account some key recommendations on fundamental labor protections for migrant workers and to ensure government accountability.
Now, YOU have the opportunity to help strengthen the rights of migrant workers under NAFTA. The United States International Trade Commission has opened a public comment session so your voice can be heard. You have until Monday, June 12, 2017 to send a public comment about the government of the United States. Below, we explain how to demand that labor protections for migrant workers under NAFTA be increased:
Step 1: Visit the U.S. Federal Government’s Regulations website, and click “SUBMIT A FORMAL COMMENT.”
Step 2: Copy the text of the Model Comment below and paste into the box labeled “Comment.” Feel free to add to or edit the comment! If you’re not a migrant worker, replace the first phrase of this letter, for example, with “As a defender of migrant workers…” or another adequate phrase.
Step 3: Fill out the following mandatory fields with your information (if you can’t answer something, fill it with N/A or 00000).
“State or Province”
Step 4: Check the box next to the platform’s terms to indicate you understand you have read and understand the statement, “You are filing a document into an official docket. Any personal information included in your comment text and/or uploaded attachment(s) may be publicly viewable on the web.”
Step 5: Review your comment. When you are satisfied, click “Submit Comment.”
Dear Mr. Wilson,
As a migrant worker, I am writing to comment on the Negotiating Objectives on the Modernization of the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico (Negotiating Objectives Regarding Modernization of the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico). In their current state, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and its parallel agreement, the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC), are profoundly inadequate to ensure the labor and civil rights of migrant workers hired to work in the United States; nor do they provide adequate tools to ensure migrant workers have sufficient remedies to access justice in cases of abuse. No worker in the United States will enjoy the full exercise of his or her fundamental rights until all the legal tools in the United States also guarantee the rights of migrant workers.
Currently, hundreds of thousands of migrant workers are hired each year to work in the United States with a temporary work visa, including H-2A, H-2B, J-1, H- 1B, and the TN visa, as established by NAFTA. They work in American companies -- small, medium, and large -- throughout the country. Although NAALC expresses the interest of each signatory state in providing migrant workers with "with the same legal protection as the Party's nationals in respect of working conditions" in its territory, the evidence shows that migrant workers regularly suffer labor abuses, including wage theft; contracts violations; and discrimination by age, sex, or national origin, among others. Rights advocates have also documented cases in which migrant workers are in labor-trafficking situations after entering the United States on a temporary visa. Workers with different types of visas also report having paid high recruitment fees and incurring debts that expose them to more vulnerabilities in their American jobs. And in suffering abuse, workers with different types of visas often face insurmountable obstacles to access justice for their claims. These cases are evidenced in the public communications MEX 2011-1 and MEX 2016-1, related to petitions under NAALC.
NAALC ostensibly provides all workers with recourse to action through the receipt of public submissions. The proscribed mechanism, however, is inadequate in addressing workers’ rights violations in the United States. The modernization of NAFTA is an opportunity to build upon lessons learned from the agreement’s first 25 years, and it should necessarily:
Responsibilize signatory states for transnational transparency. Promote transparency and justice in the recruitment process by having a public database of recruiters that is easily accessible to ensure that the program can be effectively monitored by the signatory states to avoid fraud, excessive quotas and trafficking, and that regulatory agencies are held accountable by stakeholders and the public.
Facilitate access to justice. Require signatory states to provide a path to justice and legal remedies for migrant workers when their sponsors, employers and recruiters violate their rights, protecting them from retaliation, facilitating their ability to hold employers accountable. Require that the states ensure access to courts in the three signatory states and sufficient funds for legal service providers, as well as a complaint mechanism and dispute resolution system that ensures accountability. Include voices of migrant workers in the conflict resolution process and provide resources to take action.
Hold governments responsible. Ensure that the three signatory states of the agreement are responsible for enforcing the labor protections of any person recruited to work in their national territories, ensuring that there are transparent and accessible mechanisms with the capacity to hold the three states accountable for their compliance with their guidelines efficiently and effectively.
As negotiating objectives are considered in the modernization of NAFTA, I urge the signatory states to address the abuses of migrant workers, strengthen labor rights, and ensure an effective complaint mechanism that provides justice to migrant workers.