Debt forces guest worker to endure abuse

Josy* left his town in southern India in late 2006 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 and the opportunity to settle permanently in the United States with his family. 

But, 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 what he was promised. 

“When we arrived at the Signal labor camp, I was horrified and stunned to see the living conditions,” he said. “Twenty-four men slept in one room with bunk beds. There were only four showers, two toilets and two sinks for 24 men. The space was incredibly cramped, and there was very little room to walk.”  

The labor camp was in an isolated location. The company did not allow visitors. And guards were stationed at the gate to ensure that no one entered.

“I felt like we were living in a jail,” Josy said. 

When workers complained about the situation to the company’s management, they were told they were lucky to be in the United States because in India people live like animals. 

“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.”  

The money he paid to secure the job was a huge sum that his 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 percent interest rate. His family pawned heirloom jewelry, which has huge cultural significance in India, to raise most of the rest.  

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 the indignities and hardships too common in the guest worker program. 

 

* Not his real name