OSHA will soon be able to certify visa applications for victims of labour trafficking, safety violations in U.S.
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Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story stated that OSHA can issue visas to victims of labour trafficking and safety violations. That was incorrect. OSHA has the authority to certify visa applications.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the U.S. will soon have the authority to issue visa certifications to non-citizen victims of specific crimes.
U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh joined Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Doug Parker on Feb. 13 to sign a memorandum that gives OSHA the authority to issue certifications in support of applications for U Nonimmigrant Status and T Nonimmigrant Status visas.
“U Visas” and “T Visas” allow victims of specific crimes to help law enforcement detect, investigate and prosecute crimes without fear of retaliation based on their immigration status, it said. These visas provide immigration status to non-citizen victims and allow them to remain in the U.S. to assist authorities in combatting human trafficking and other crimes.
For the first time, OSHA will be able to issue these visa certifications – during its workplace safety investigations – when the agency identifies qualifying criminal activities, including manslaughter, trafficking, extortion, felonious assault, forced labor and obstruction of justice.
Safety leaders applaud changes
Safety leaders are applauding the new protections.
“This is a step forward for immigrant workers in the U.S., including millions who are undocumented,” said Jessica E. Martinez, co-executive director of National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH). “These workers are essential to our economy and communities but are all too often victimized by unscrupulous employers. These same employers frequently threaten to use immigration status as a way to silence workers and prevent them from speaking up about abusive and illegal practices in their workplaces.”
“When workers have a voice, they can join together to stop illegal conduct and exploitation by their employers,” said Martinez. “Millions of immigrants — including undocumented workers — in the U.S. grow, prepare and serve our food, build our homes, care for our children and perform many other vital functions. It’s absurd to claim these workers don’t ‘belong’ here. They are here, and they deserve the same dignity, respect and safety on the job as everyone else.”
Kicks in March 30
OSHA’s new authority – effective March 30, 2023 – will strengthen its ability to protect all workers, including those whose immigration status or other social and cultural inequities discourage them from sharing information with investigators or reporting workplace safety and health issues.
The authority will also provide the agency with a critical tool for protecting immigrant and migrant worker communities regardless of their lack of immigration status or temporary employment authorization.
“Expanding OSHA’s U and T visa certification authority helps the agency better fulfill its mission to make U.S. workplaces as safe and healthy as possible,” said Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Doug Parker. “Workers in the U.S. need to feel empowered and able to trust OSHA and the U.S. Department of Labor enough to voice their concerns about workplace safety regardless of their immigration status and fears of retaliation.”
“Protecting workers who are witnesses to illegal workplace abuses not only means workers can be treated fairly, it also creates a level playing field for employers,” said Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, also a co-executive director of National COSH. “Companies that provide a safe workplace, use above-board hiring and recruitment practices and pay workers what they are owed should not have to compete with those who break the law to gain an unfair advantage.”