H-2A visas are employer-sponsored temporary agricultural worker visas. Workers on the H-2A visa rely on their employers for their visa sponsorship, work, and residence. Many have taken these jobs that are undesirable to American nationals because of comparably worse options in their home countries.
H-2A visa holders, therefore, may already be in compromised positions, and may be trafficked by employers who control their legal residency. As such, these workers have little leverage and the system is ripe for trafficking.
H-2A visa sponsors are publicly listed. Financial institutions can assess which of their existing or prospective customers employ workers on these visas.
Connecting Data: Networks of Visa Brokers
H-2A visa brokers facilitate the sponsorship of international temporary agricultural workers. Brokers are used by farmers to simplify the burden of the application process. One broker may be contracted by thousands of employers, for which it will acquire and place temporary laborers.
Visa brokers represent one population that can manipulate the sponsorship process. While they are occasionally caught and disciplined for trafficking, they are able to continue their businesses under new company names or under the guises of relatives and friends.
One well-known instance of visa manipulation is the 2015 case of Craig Stanford Eury Jr. and his firm, the North Carolina Growers Association (NCGA). Understanding the Eury case and his web of connections will help financial institutions understand the evasions and relations to track.
NCGA under Eury registered to sponsor laborers as an “employer” rather than as a broker. This filing status enabled NCGA to conceal the identities of the farms it sent laborers to, and made it harder for reviewers to evaluate which workers could legally work at which farms. NCGA helped at least one farm evade the cap on H-2B temporary workers for non-agriculture jobs by petitioning for H-2A visas even though laborers would not be used for agricultural work.
Today, Eury and some of his colleagues have criminal records for their manipulations, but they have not been barred from continuing to recruit temporary laborers. Since his conviction, Eury has been directly tied to six other companies including another visa consultant agency and a cross-border transit company. Today, NCGA remains the biggest employer of H-2A guest workers in the U.S., having certified 11,947 visas in 2017. Eury’s daughter founded a visa company ILMC, which was permanently barred from sponsoring visas, but its former employees certified another 7,219 visas 3 years later.
Once caught, labor traffickers are often still able to operate. Financial institutions should understand visa brokers’ networks, which come from publicly-reported business names and owners. Explore Stan Eury and the NCGA’s network as an illustration of how broker networks can function, and to assess your institution’s work with related parties.
Following Trends: Demographics to Build Typologies
To uncover the incidence of labor trafficking in U.S. agriculture, incidences can be further segmented into a few key demographic categories.
Firstly, the United States’ tobacco industry is at particular risk for trafficking The U.S. is the fourth-largest tobacco producing country in the world, having harvested more than 700 million pounds in 2015. One in 10 calls reporting agricultural labor trafficking and exploitation cite tobacco.
Within the tobacco industry, certain states are at a greater risk for trafficking. North Carolina and Kentucky together produce more than 70% of the domestic tobacco yield. Hundreds of labor violations have been found in these states. Of the 29 labor trafficking cases in Kentucky reported in the last year to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, 12 were related to agriculture.
Despite violations, criminal action against labor trafficking is minimal. In spite of more than 100 reported labor trafficking cases in Kentucky since 2012, zero federal labor trafficking cases have been prosecuted. Employers who have been found guilty remain eligible for sponsoring visas. The Department of Labor has the ability to add people to the Debarred/Disqualified List of Employers, prohibiting them to apply for visa sponsorship for a period of time, but this rarely occurs. Christopher Lee Smith Farms is the only KY employer currently debarred under the H-2A program. Smith’s advising visa consultant listed on H-2A applications has no violations listed against her.
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