In November 2006, Josy* left his town in southern India to travel to the U.S. He had paid approximately $13,150 to a labor recruiter for what he understood to be a good job at shipyards owned by Signal International, which he believed at the time to be a reputable company, and the chance to settle permanently in the U.S. with his family. In fact, he was traveling on an H-2B visa that would be good only for 10 months, and the job would be nothing like he was promised.
His investment represented a huge sum that Josy’s meager salary in India as a welder could not begin to cover. Putting up his family’s land and home as collateral, he borrowed the bulk of the money at a 14% interest rate; his family pawned heirloom jewelry, which has huge cultural significance in India, to raise most of the rest.
“When we arrived at the Signal labor camp, I was horrified and stunned to see the living conditions,” Josy said. “Twenty-four men slept in one room with bunk beds. There were only four showers, two toilets, and two sinks for twenty-four men. The space was incredibly cramped, and there was very little room to walk.”
The Signal labor camp was in an isolated location. Signal did not allow the guestworkers to have visitors in the camp. Guards were stationed at the gate to ensure that no visitors entered. “I felt like we were living in a jail,” Josy said.
When workers complained about the situation to Signal management, they were told they were lucky to be in the United States because in India people live like animals. “But I had no other option [but to keep working at Signal],” Josy said, “because I had so much debt and needed to work to pay it off.”
Josy’s first child was born shortly after he arrived in the United States. He was unable to travel home to see his newborn daughter, but the desire to take care of her fueled him to keep fighting through