Many H-2B workers in the fair and carnival industry often face appalling work conditions. These workers are vulnerable to unfair employment and labor practices in part because their visas only authorize them to work for the employer who sponsored them, and also because they often arrive in the U.S. with a debilitating pre-employment debt. Recent attempts to enhance H-2B worker protections, while a step in the right direction, are currently stalled due to employer-driven litigation. As a result of inadequate government oversight and enforcement of existing laws, coupled with workers' limited access to exercise their rights by filing complaints regarding employment and health and safety violations, employers continue to bring workers to the U.S. and place them in deplorable work and living conditions with almost absolute impunity.
Based on interviews with H-2B workers in Maryland, Virginia, and Mexico, this report sheds light on the abuses that fair and carnival workers face. Such abuses include deceptive recruitment practices and high pre-employment fees and costs; wage theft; lack of access to legal and medical assistance; substandard housing; and unsafe work conditions. The fair and carnival industry epitomizes what is currently most problematic with the H-2B temporary worker program, as employers are often able to mistreat their workers and claim exemption from basic worker protection laws with very little scrutiny. This report provides recommendations that would rectify H-2B worker mistreatment through means such as comprehensive immigration reform, agency rulemaking, and enforcement of existing laws. Fixing the H-2B program would not only help foreign temporary workers: all workers in the U.S. benefit when the rights of a specific group of workers are enhanced and enforced.