Maryland Catholic Conference supports bill to protect foreign workers

The Maryland Catholic Conference has again supported legislation that would protect foreign laborers who come to our state from trafficking and exploitation, offering testimony in support of SB 742, the "Fair Recruitment and Transparency Act."

Every year thousands of workers with what are known as "H-2 visas" arrive in Maryland to do everything from farm work, to crab-picking and landscaping. Those workers often face abuse, fraud and coercion from recruiters and others who put them at risk for trafficking and exploitation. 

"Many people come to Maryland through visa programs that allow them to work here for certain amounts of time and far too many end up exploited in that process," said Anne Wallerstedt, associate director of Social and Economic Justice for the Conference. "Sadly, it is far too common for a worker's terms of employment to be misrepresented, for contractors to charge exorbitant fees that put these workers in debt bondage and in other situations that can reach to the severity of labor trafficking, and workers to end up living in deplorable conditions as a result."

The Catholic Church strongly opposes human trafficking because it disregards the dignity of human life. Although anti-human trafficking efforts often focus on sex trafficking, the Church reminds us to turn our attention to labor trafficking that is very prevalent in the United States as well. 

The Church supports the "Fair Recruitment and Transparency Act" because it would protect workers from labor trafficking by:

  • Prohibiting discrimination in recruitment, hiring, and job assignments; 
  • Banning recruitment fees to prevent workers from arriving indebted and more vulnerable to coercive labor conditions; and
  • Requiring the licensing of recruiters and the creation of a registry to ensure workers know who they are working with.

The bill also calls for a state workgroup to study the J-1 Summer Work Travel program in Maryland. Workers under this program often work and live under deplorable conditions.