Apr 14 2014
No matter how frustrating your job search is/was, if you think you have it rough, imagine being an immigrant, landing in the United States, speaking little to no English and trying to find a job. Believing that America is the land of opportunity and the home of the free, thousands of people flock to our shores daily in search of better lives for themselves and their families, only to be forced into working conditions most of us would find completely unacceptable.
Sadly it is not uncommon for new arrivals to be taken advantage of. There are many who see opportunity in the exploitation of those who come here. This is especially true when there is a broad language barrier.
Whether the immigrant worker comes to our country of their own free will or to free themselves from oppressions in their native homeland is almost beside the point. Seeking political asylum or not, there are a limited number of work visas issued annually, and not everyone who applies for a work visa gets one. Those seeking skilled and professional occupations must get their Green Card, and they will have a much better chance of earning more than a minimum wage. But those are in the minority.
Not all those who come to our shores have the skills for the specialized visas, and many get turned down for their Green Cards. Immigrants without legitimate work authorizations or formal sponsorships must find work “under the radar” and are frequently forced into indentured servitude for twelve or more hours a day at less than minimum wage because these are the only jobs made available to them. Even with a Green Card many find themselves working for little more than minimum wage, and often in degrading conditions.
In cities around the country, there are employment agencies that specialize in finding work for documented and undocumented workers, within the restaurant and hospitality industries, and as manufacturing and construction laborers. And the average job seeker won’t find these agencies in their local phone directory; the immigrant frequently knows who to seek out through word of mouth, in their native tongue. Job seekers queue up for brief interviews and document verification. Then, if the candidate is lucky s/he could be sent to another state to take a menial job at an eatery or hotel, and without hesitation, s/he will get on the next bus or train and head to that job in a place that is equally unfamiliar and unfriendly.
And to make matters worse, if that’s possible, these agencies operate under the radar, without licenses, so even when there is a legislated minimum wage, there is no compliance by these agencies or many of the employers. And many of the immigrants feel like they have no power to control the situation, afraid they will not be assigned work, be fired, or worse, deported, for speaking up about these injustices. And their concerns are legit because without proper work authorizations the threat of deportation is real.
Regardless of how you feel about immigration laws, ICE (Immigration & Customs Enforcement), the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act, or any other legislation concerning the rights of new arrivals to our shores, you can’t deny that the wholesale exploitation of workers from other countries is shameful. Our country can do better.
Certainly there is a need for employment agencies that specialize in finding work for new arrivals! But I believe such agencies need to be regulated the same as any other employment agency, specialized or otherwise. And the work found for the clients of these agencies should meet the federal minimum wage and safety standards.
Many of the underappreciated immigrant workers will fulfill jobs and tasks that are already familiar, having performed them before coming here. But many other workers will be taking steps backwards in their careers, taking any opportunity, even a menial one, to be here and start a new life. And let’s keep in mind they are filling jobs that many of those who have been here their whole lives will not do!
Those who are willing to do the jobs others won’t do, are owed a debt of gratitude) by those who won’t do those jobs! And it starts with insisting on fair employment and pay for all. So, be grateful for the choices you do have in your jobs and job search and the conditions under which you will most likely be working. You have it a lot easier than you might think.
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