We are J-1 workers from the Philippines working in hotels and restaurants across the United States of America. We came here with the promise to receive professional training and to gain exposure to American culture, but instead those promises were broken and we are now faced with many challenges.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a majority of us have been terminated. Some of us arrived and only worked less than a week before being laid off. Without a job, we cannot afford food, groceries, and rent. Many of us cannot afford to go home to the Philippines because we have not saved enough money on top of incurring debt from paying huge amounts to our recruitment agencies.
Even before the pandemic, promises were already broken. Our employers did not follow the training plan written in our contract. We have done the work of regular workers, but some of us did not receive the same benefits that they got from the same company. Many of us did not receive the pay rate or work hours promised to us. We were just being trained to work, not to learn.
We have received little to no support from our host companies, visa sponsors, recruitment agencies, and the Philippine government since being terminated. Some of our sponsors and recruitment agencies have even stopped communicating with us. This is heartbreaking for us because we gave our best to our host companies and to the exchange program, paying between $4,000 and $10,000 in fees and going above and beyond in contributing to the hotels and restaurants we worked for.
Given these conditions, we are calling on the Philippine government to:
1) Support us with financial assistance through its Assistance to Nationals program for: rent, purchasing plane tickets, and reimbursement for those who have already bought a plane ticket;
2) Provide legal assistance for taxes, immigration, labor rights, and other areas of concern;
3) Investigate and prosecute recruitment agencies accountable for neglect and corruption; and
4) Declare cash bonds and post-dated checks unenforceable, and refund any cash paid.
We demand our visa sponsors and recruitment agencies to:
1)Take responsibility for the well-being and safety of J-1 workers;
2) Communicate clearly and timely with us, instead of neglecting us;
3) Assure us of our program’s restarting or extension;
4) Provide a full refund of our program fee, all miscellaneous fees, and provide receipts for all payments, if program was not completed or was suddenly terminated;
5) Provide damage compensation;
6) Pay us in the full amount written in our contract; and
7) Stop the harassment of J-1 workers and our relatives in the Philippines for payments.
Finally, we call on the US government to:
1) Provide assistance for J-1 workers victimized and abused due to discrimination; and
2) Protect J-1 workers during disasters and emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic.
— J-1 Workers’ Network