When does it become trafficking?
A situation in the hospitality industry becomes labor trafficking when the victim is made to believe, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion that he or she cannot quit and has no other choice but to continue to work. Common elements of force, fraud, or coercion used in hospitality settings include:
Force: Physical and/or sexual abuse; restrictions on movement or confinement to the hotel property; restricted communication with family or friends; constant surveillance.
Fraud: Misrepresentation of the work, working conditions, wages, and/or immigration benefits of the job; altered or fake contracts; non-payment or underpayment of wages; visa fraud.
Coercion: Threats of harm to the victim or the victim’s family members; threats of deportation or police involvement; debt manipulation; unreasonable deductions and fees for visas, transportation, rent, food and/or uniforms.
Human trafficking spans all victim demographics and the vulnerabilities traffickers exploit are unique and specific to each victim (e.g. a developmental disorder, past child abuse, cultural beliefs). However, the NHTRC sees recurring vulnerabilities among hospitality workers. Some examples of these include (and are not limited by):
Immigration Status: Labor trafficking victims may be U.S. citizens or immigrants. However, immigrants – whether documented or not – can be vulnerable to exploitation due to language barriers, unfamiliarity with their legal rights in the US, or the lack of a local support network. Undocumented workers are particularly vulnerable to threats of deportation, and are often unlikely to seek help from the police.
Recruitment Debt: Some immigrants working in the hospitality industry hold employment-based visas such as the J-1 or H2-B. In order to obtain these or other visas, workers sometimes pay between $1,000 and $20,000 in legal and illegal feels to a recruiter, visa sponsor, or employer. Oftentimes, workers have to borrow money at high interest rates or mortgage their family’s home, to pay the fee. This debt, coupled with the fact that workers with J-1 or H-2B visas are restricted to certain employers to maintain their immigration status, leave workers vulnerable to exploitation.
Traffickers conduct their trafficking operations in a wide range of industries, utilizing both legitimate and illegitimate venues and means of operation. Various industries are faced with challenges or weakness that can be used by traffickers as enabling factors for human trafficking. Examples of recurring vulnerabilities within the hospitality industry include (and are not limited to):
Seasonal Tourism: Hospitality venues in locations with high peaks in seasonal tourism experience a spike in need for short-term temporary labor. Many employers in these areas turn to various temporary work visa programs to fill the need for employment. However, workers in these programs are vulnerable to trafficking as their immigration status remains tied to their continued employment with the initial employer, capacity for program oversight remains limited, and victims sometimes have limited ability to communicate or engage the broader community to find assistance.