Victims of trafficking may be found working against their will in hotels or motels for long hours for little or no pay. They may work as room attendants; front desk, kitchen, restaurant, server or bell staff; in marketing; in casinos; or in any other service offered by a hotel. The trafficker may be the hotel management or a labor recruiter/labor broker which subcontracts with the hotel to provide a labor supply. If the trafficker is a contractor, the hotel may or may not be aware of the abuse.
While working at a hotel cleaning rooms and doing general maintenance, a woman was offered a job at a hotel in another city by the hotel owners. The owners told her that she could make more money at this hotel and not have to do cleaning. When the woman arrived, she was expected to work extremely long hours and to clean rooms. She was only paid sporadically in small amounts. Since she was far from home and had little money, she was afraid to leave her situation since she would become homeless. When she raised her concerns about the conditions to the owners, she was told that they would abandon her with nothing if she kept complaining.*
*Based on calls received by the National Human Trafficking Resource Center. Identifying details have been changed to protect confidentiality.
When does it become trafficking?
Labor exploitation rises to the level of 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 means of control include:
Force – Physical and/or sexual abuse; restrictions on movement or confinement to the hotel property or an apartment supplied by the trafficker; constant surveillance.
Fraud – Misrepresentation of the work, working conditions, wages, and immigration benefits of the job; altered or bogus contracts; non-payment or underpayment of wages; visa fraud e.g. allowing a legitimate visa to expire or failing to provide a promised visa, thereby increasing the worker’s vulnerability to threats of deportation and limiting his or her alternative job options.
Coercion – Verbal abuse; threats of harm to the victim or the victim’s family members; threats of deportation or police involvement; isolation; exploitation of a foreign national worker’s unfamiliarity with the language, laws and customs of the US; debt manipulation; unreasonable deductions and fees for visas, transportation, rent, food and/or uniforms.
*The above list is not comprehensive or cumulative. One element of force, fraud or coercion may be present, or many.
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, and/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.
Over 1.5 million people in the U.S. work in the accommodation industry. The extent of trafficking within the industry is unknown.