Data and analysis supporting several passages in the BuzzFeed News article, "The New American Slavery: Invited To The U.S., Foreign Workers Find A Nightmare," published July 24, 2015.
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README.md

H-2 Visa/Enforcement Data and Analysis

This repository contains the data and code supporting several passages in the BuzzFeed News article, "The New American Slavery: Invited To The U.S., Foreign Workers Find A Nightmare", published July 24, 2015.

Data

The analyses below depend on two major datasets from the Department of Labor, the agency responsible for protecting workers and vetting employers seeking visas:

  • The Wage and Hour Division's WHISARD database, obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request. The database contains information on employers, violations, fines, and other details corresponding to investigations concluded between October 1, 2001 and March 31, 2015. (Note: The WHD has redacted some tables and columns per FOIA exemption 5.) You can download a copy of the data dictionary here. To decompress the data file, run make data/whd-enforcement-database from this repository's root directory. Once you do so, the data can be found in data/whd-enforcement-database. (Update, 2016-12-27: Alternatively — and more easily — you can download an identical copy of the data from the Internet Archive.)

  • The Office of Foreign Labor Certification's records of visa-certification decisions for the H-2 visa program. (The visa comes in two types: H-2A for agricultural workers and H-2B for non-agricultural unskilled workers.) Obtained from here and here. The raw and processed data can be found in data/oflc-decisions.

Analyses

  • Passage: "Since 2005, Labor Department investigation records show, at least 800 employers have subjected more than 23,000 H-2 guest workers to violations of the federal laws designed to protect them from exploitation, including more than 16,000 instances of H-2 workers being paid less than the promised wage."
  • Analysis: For the methodology and calculations, see this notebook.

  • Passage: "Those numbers almost certainly understate the problem, as the federal government doesn’t check up on the vast majority of companies that bring guest workers into this country."
  • Analysis: For the methodology and calculations, see this notebook.


  • Passage: "A Labor Department investigation opened in 2011 found that Harvest Time owed workers more than $52,000 in back wages for 167 violations of worker protection laws."
  • Analysis: See case details here.

  • Passage: "The Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division investigated the Arkansas-based Superior Forestry — the largest forestry contractor in the country, according to the department — at least 15 times between 2000 and 2014. [...] But over the course of the Labor Department’s 15 investigations, the agency pinned only minor violations on the company, ordering Superior to repay its workers a total of just $12,652 in back wages over a dozen years."
  • Analysis: For a listing of cases and back wages, see this notebook

  • Passage: "Over the previous five years, government investigations found at least 12 firms underpaid H-2 workers by more than $100,000. Yet only one of them was debarred. Five — including an onion producer that had more than 1,400 violations and owed its Mexican workers $2.3 million in back wages — have been certified for more than 2,000 additional visas this year alone."
  • Analysis: For computation of back wages owed to H-2 workers, see this notebook. For debarment and visa certification details, see this spreadsheet, and the debarment lists in the docs folder.

Technical Notes

To re-run the analyses above, you'll need Python 2.7, as well as the Python libraries listed in requirements.txt.

Feedback

If you have questions or feedback about the data or analyses, contact Jeremy Singer-Vine at jeremy.singer-vine@buzzfeed.com.