Bait-and-Switch Work Visa Draws a Class Action Lawsuit
A little-known visa intended for skilled workers is shunting foreign college graduates into blue-collar jobs on U.S. auto assembly lines. With minimal oversight and no effective caps, the TN visa program is being widely abused, along with its workers, according to complaints.
An investigation by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found Mexican engineers were assigned to heavy manual labor at Georgia factories, working “horrendously long hours at wages that were a fraction” of those paid U.S. workers.
“It was a total lie,” one engineer said of his TN visa job. “[Staffing agencies] are making the U.S. government believe they are bringing in qualified personnel for a professional job, but it’s a lie.”
The engineer-turned-shop rat was among the Mexican nationals who toiled at parts suppliers for Kia and Hyundai in Georgia. (FAIR recently reported on Hyundai hiring Guatemalan migrants as young as 12 years old at a plant in Alabama.)
“It’s just flat out illegal. It’s fraud. You can’t bring in production workers under a TN visa. … This is crazy,” said Charles Kuck, past president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
Compared to other skilled work visas, such as H-1B or L-1 visas, it’s easy to get TN (Trade NAFTA) papers. In fact, they can be issued upon arrival at a port of entry.
TN status lasts three years and binds workers to employers, with time extensions available. Eligible professions include engineers, accountants, scientists, lawyers and pharmacists.
The U.S. granted 24,904 TN visas in 2021, up more than 50 percent from the year before. While receiving 98.8 percent of these permits, Mexican nationals garnered just 0.6 percent of the more restrictive H-1B visas.
In March, a class action lawsuit was filed against SMART Alabama, a Hyundai parts subsidiary, and AGWM United, a staffing agency. The suit asserts that the companies conspired to use TNs to hire professional workers for “underpaid, unskilled positions.” Specifically, the firms are accused of violating the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act and Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
The complaint calls the NAFTA visa “largely unregulated.” Citing “poor working conditions, misrepresentation and other abusive practices,” the lawsuit says the TN program “lacks oversight, transparency and basic rights protections, unlike other employment visa programs regulated by the Department of Labor.”
“TN is kind of the Wild West,” Daniel Werner, an attorney in the class action, told the Journal-Constitution. “Workers come here and there’s just no reporting, no oversight.”
Which makes TNs the fastest growing work visa program you’ve never heard of.