North America

How American companies are abusing the work visa

By  | 
visa

Image:NYU

America has always had a certain appeal to people from other countries. It’s the “land of opportunity” after all, where you can achieve spectacular wealth if you are willing to roll up your sleeves and work for it. And regardless of whether or not that is true, or ever was, the idea behind it still draws a lot of young people from all over the world who want to work in America.

And America, like every modern nation, has to have a way of sorting out who is and isn’t allowed to come into the country for work. That leads to the visa system, where different workers are categorized according to the purpose of their visit, with the idea being that no Americans are displaced from their professions, and no visiting worker is exploited.

But according to many people who came to this country to work, only to find themselves suffering through long hours performing menial labor and with little personal freedom, the system is deeply flawed.

For instance, one of the more popular visas is the J-1, which is designed to allow college students from other countries to come to the U.S. and work for a few months in order to encourage inter-cultural exchange. For many, it is a good chance to spend a few months working on their English and experiencing life in the U.S.

Many others like Khrystyna Mylkus find that the conditions they find on arrival don’t allow much time for cultural exchange. Mylkus is from Ukraine and paid a great deal of money to a recruiter for help finding work and navigating the sometimes labyrinthian U.S. visa process.

The recruiter Mylkus contacted found her work at a theme park, but when she arrived she found out that because she was only seventeen she couldn’t actually be employed there. The agency had failed to verify the park’s age requirements. Desperate and more or less stranded in a foreign country, Mylkus started looking for any work she could find, finally ending up at a resort in upstate Michigan.

There she took a job as a custodian, cleaning rooms for up to 48 hours a week and with little pay. She stayed there for several weeks, performing work that would have been illegal to hire an American teenager to do, before finally making it back to Ukraine.

But this kind of exploitative work isn’t limited to college students performing janitorial work. The tech industry also has it’s share of visa abuse.

The H1-B visa is designed to allow American companies to hire foreign workers for industries that they can’t find enough skilled Americans to staff. In practice, many of these visas are used by the Tech industry, which is generally pretty voracious for the slots allocated to the visa.

One would think that implies that there are way more jobs to staff in the tech industry than there are Americans to fill them, but just ask some of the many unemployed American tech workers if that is the case. The reality is that many tech companies use the visa system as a way to find workers from other countries who they can pay less than they would otherwise have to pay American tech workers.

The majority of workers seeking these visas aren’t idealistic tech graduates looking for a better labor market. Most applications for the H1-B visa are actually filled by a handful of foreign corporations that make a business exporting this sort of cheap labor.

As for the workers themselves, many find that once they arrive they are doing less work relevant to their degrees, but instead are performing menial work for long hours and below-average wage.

The reality is that very little is done to stop this kind of exploitation of the immigration system. People from all over the world are coming to America to find it is less the land of the free than a place where their labor is exploited. And it is time to change that.

Wyatt is a writer and your friend. You can follow him on Twitter @WyattRedd.