The U.S. government increased efforts to prevent trafficking. The government continued to implement a comprehensive three-year national action plan to combat human trafficking and in December 2021 released an updated version that incorporated actions to advance gender and racial equity; workers’ rights; safe, orderly, and humane migration; and support for underserved communities. To enhance transparency and stakeholder input, the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons reported on agency accomplishments and future efforts and again invited members of the presidentially- appointed survivor advisory council to join its meeting. DOJ released a comprehensive multi-year national strategy to strengthen capacity and coordination within DOJ to combat human trafficking. HHS announced the establishment of a task force to prevent human trafficking, focusing on expanding access to services for survivors and preventing forced labor in health care supply chains, among other initiatives. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) released its revised policy to combat trafficking in persons aimed at promoting trauma-informed and survivor-centered approaches and strengthening partnerships. In FY 2021, Congress made available $99 million in foreign assistance resources to State and USAID to support international anti-trafficking initiatives in countries in every region of the world. Although it increased overall efforts to prevent trafficking, advocates continued to call for the government to prioritize a more comprehensive and proactive approach to address the factors and conditions that increase vulnerabilities to human trafficking, such as the exclusion of domestic and agricultural workers from legal worker protections. In addition, the government did not increase its ability to prevent human trafficking in its employment- based and other nonimmigrant visa programs or to hold employers, farm labor contractors, and their agents, including labor recruiters, accountable for practices known to lead to human trafficking.
HHS continued to fund an NGO to operate the national human trafficking hotline. In FY 2021, the hotline received 66,308 signals, including calls, texts, chats, online tips, and emails that were substantive in nature (i.e., excluding hang-ups, wrong numbers, missed signals, and signals in which the hotline could not determine the signaler’s reason for calling); identified 10,983 potential human trafficking cases; and provided referrals for 10,633 unique signalers. More than 13,538 signals came from individuals who identified themselves as potential victims of trafficking seeking help. The government operated other tip lines that received calls or messages related to suspected human trafficking cases.
The government continued public outreach measures on the causes and consequences of human trafficking and continued to seek and incorporate survivors’ expertise into policies and programs. Agencies provided funding, materials, and trainings related to human trafficking awareness to federal grantees, school communities, public health providers, and public and private sector transportation stakeholders, among others, including on trauma-informed and victim-centered approaches to human trafficking. For the fifth year, HHS continued its leadership academy composed of survivors and anti-trafficking professionals, with the latest cohort developing recommendations for service providers that receive federal, state, or local funding to build their capacity to address institutional inequities and better serve communities of color and those at risk of human trafficking.
Advocates urged the government to evaluate the effectiveness of anti- trafficking outreach efforts, including trainings, and ensure educational materials are survivor-informed and tailored to the industry of those being trained. NGOs called for all professionals, especially healthcare workers and educators who are likely to encounter potential human trafficking victims and survivors, to receive human trafficking training, including on how to identify vulnerabilities traffickers target and connect victims to support. NGOs noted the lack of prevalence data is a barrier to effective anti-trafficking prevention efforts and that the government did not publish a report on prevalence in the United States as required by law; they called for additional nationwide prevalence studies to better target anti-trafficking efforts.
Advocates continued to call for the government to prioritize a more comprehensive and proactive approach to address the factors and conditions—including those created by government policies or structures like the criminal justice system, immigration system, housing, and healthcare—that increase vulnerabilities to human trafficking. For example, advocates called for the government to create economic opportunities to empower individuals in communities it has historically placed at higher risk of human trafficking through discriminatory policies, such as individuals who are Black, Indigenous, people of color, or LGBTQI+, and to further examine racism and discrimination as root causes. Workers in domestic and agricultural sectors, performing duties historically performed by people who were enslaved, people who were formerly enslaved, and their descendants, remained specifically excluded from legal worker protections under federal law. Their lack of legal protections, combined with the heightened isolation, economic uncertainty, and health risks due to COVID-19, increased their risk of human trafficking.
DOL, DHS, and State screen and approve employers and workers for temporary foreign worker programs to ensure compliance with program requirements, including worker protections. To reduce workers’ vulnerability to exploitation, including human trafficking, the United States bars employers participating in these programs and/or their agents (whether or not those agents or others in the recruitment chain are in contractual privity with the employer or a recruiter, whether or not located in the United States, and whether or not such agents are governmental or non-governmental entities) from seeking or receiving payments from workers for any activities related to obtaining labor certification or employment. These payments include job placement and recruitment fees and salary and wage deductions. The United States requires that the terms of employment be disclosed. When State conducts visa interviews, it has direct contact with visa applicants and can apprise applicants of their legal rights pertaining to worker protections related to their temporary employment. In addition, the government can use the criminal statute that prohibits the use of fraud to recruit, solicit, or hire workers abroad to come to the United States to work to hold employers and their agents criminally responsible for abusive employment practices commonly associated with forced labor. In FY 2021, DOL conducted 248 and 538 audits of temporary labor certifications for H-2A and H-2B petitions, respectively, and as it did not receive any voluntary disclosures from employers applying for a temporary labor certification that they or their agents charged workers a prohibited fee, did not deny any temporary labor certification applications solely on that basis. DOJ initiated one prosecution for fraud in foreign labor contracting in FY 2021. State extended its interview waiver authorization for certain first-time H-2 visa applicants and expanded the waiver to include additional visa categories, which again reduced the government’s ability to verbally ensure applicants knew their rights and to detect potential cases of fraud that increase applicants’ vulnerability to human trafficking. As part of the administration’s strategy to promote safe, orderly, and humane migration in and from North and Central America, as well as the Caribbean, the government expanded access to legal migration pathways, including the H-2 visa program. To do so, USAID provided technical assistance and staffing to the governments in northern Central America to increase their ability to recruit potential H-2 workers within their country, connect with U.S. businesses to increase demand for workers from those countries, and facilitate the completion and submission of H-2 visa applications. The U.S. government issued H-2 visas to 9,797 northern Central American applicants in FY 2021. Of those, 1,776 applicants applied with USAID assistance (the remaining visas were issued to workers recruited through private recruiters).
Oversight of employment-based and other nonimmigrant visa programs remained weak, and structural conditions embedded in some of these programs continued to enable human traffickers—employers, labor contractors, or agents—to maintain control of workers. NGOs stated the administration’s expansion of the H-2 visa program without having first addressed insufficient oversight and the longstanding structural weaknesses of it placed workers at greater risk to human trafficking. Advocates called for the government to launch an investigation into how a group of 24 employers and farm labor contractors who allegedly subjected more than 100 H-2 workers to forced labor were able to petition for more than 70,000 H-2A positions over the course of six years. Advocates called for an audit of the H-2A program and expressed concern that the government had not followed up with the other workers on the defendants’ petitions to ensure they were not being exploited. Advocates continued to call for regulatory changes to uncouple employment visas from an employer or sponsor and to protect individuals in certain temporary worker programs to the same extent as workers in other programs. NGOs recommended the government develop a more accessible database with real-time information to enable workers to verify the existence of a job, self-petition, and access job-related information. In June 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court found a state regulation allowing labor organizers onto private agricultural property during non-work hours to talk with employees constituted taking private property for public use without just compensation. NGOs said this decision further isolated farmworkers and left them more vulnerable to exploitation, especially among H-2A workers, whose visas are tied to their employers.
Formal and informal recruiters, labor contractors, and agents continued to charge workers prohibited fees, and the government’s enforcement of the ban on worker-paid recruitment fees and other prohibited practices meant to prevent workers from experiencing situations of heightened risk to human trafficking remained weak. NGOs urged DOL to require H-2A labor contractors to submit an H-2A application with an agricultural business as a joint employer so that the business is also liable for the recruitment and treatment of workers. NGOs called for the government to increase transparency of the recruitment process, prioritize holding accountable employers and farm labor contractors, as well as their agents who have exploited workers and violated visa program regulations, and pass federal legislation to regulate foreign labor recruitment, including creation of a public registry of certified labor recruiters.
State continued its oversight of the Exchange Visitor Program (EVP, commonly referred to as the “J-1 visa”), which includes among others the Summer Work Travel (SWT) and Au Pair programs. State continued to monitor exchange visitors to help safeguard their health, safety, and welfare and to identify and investigate program fraud and abuse. It also continued to increase its virtual monitoring capabilities through exchange visitor surveys and reached approximately 42,000 exchange visitors that way in 2021. State conducted outreach to raise program sponsors’ awareness of their administrative oversight and reporting obligations to State with respect to the health, safety, and welfare of exchange visitors. State continued to liaise and collaborate with law enforcement on criminal investigations relating to the EVP and created a pamphlet to educate exchange visitors on their rights. State continued to sanction sponsors that violated EVP regulations throughout the reporting period, but none were for trafficking or trafficking-related crimes.
Advocates continued to report the need for additional steps to reduce the risks of exploitation in some EVP categories, noting two recent cases of EVP abuse, potential human trafficking cases identified by the national human trafficking hotline, and concerns with fraudulent recruitment practices. Advocates noted that program fees left some SWT participants indebted upon arrival to the United States. One advocacy group noted SWT participants in hospitality placements in one Midwestern state were often at increased risk to trafficking due to isolation and dependency on their employer for housing. A news report featuring interviews with former and current au pairs in the EVP detailed a lack of oversight of sponsors and families, including false promises, threats of removal, and frequent sponsor non-compliance with the program’s reporting requirements. Advocates called for increased protections for the SWT (specifically for hospitality placements) and au pair categories under U.S. labor and employment laws. Specifically, for the au pair category, advocates recommended increased program oversight by State, more accountability of sponsors and participating employers, and greater transparency about employers and occupations.
State and the U.S. Mission to the UN continued to implement their respective domestic worker in-person registration programs for A-3 and G-5 visa holders employed by foreign mission and international organization personnel in the United States. Due to the pandemic, the programs remained virtual, using phone and video registrations. In June 2021, in accordance with the TVPA, State suspended for five years the A-3 visa sponsorship privileges afforded to Cameroonian bilateral mission members because the Government of Cameroon declined to waive diplomatic immunity for U.S. criminal proceedings involving mistreatment of a domestic worker and did not initiate its own prosecution. This suspension followed State’s March 2021 request that the Government of Cameroon waive immunity of a Cameroonian mission member following an investigation into allegations including fraud in foreign labor contracting and collection of data and State’s requiring the departure of the individual from the United States.
Lawsuits in Colorado, Georgia, Texas, and California remained pending against privately owned and operated detention facilities contracted by DHS. These lawsuits allege the contractors forced detained non-citizens to work in violation of the TVPA during their federal immigration detention. DHS is not party to the lawsuits, nor are any of its component agencies.
Advocates again asserted that labor by individuals in immigration detention and prisons perpetuates slavery and its legacy of racial injustice. They continued to call for the government to end its use of labor in immigrant detention facilities, whether government-operated or operated through contracts with private entities, as these detained non-citizens have not been convicted of a crime. They also called on the government to close all privately run immigration detention facilities and amend the U.S. Constitution to eliminate the exception to the Thirteenth Amendment that allows for slavery or involuntary servitude as punishment for those convicted of a crime.
Civil enforcement of federal laws continued to be a significant component of the government’s anti-trafficking efforts. DOL investigated complaints and conducted targeted civil labor investigations involving workers in industries and sectors known to be vulnerable to labor trafficking, including complaints or investigations related to temporary foreign worker programs. Where appropriate, DOL refers these cases for criminal investigation. In FY 2021, DOL continued such enforcement activities in industries including agriculture, landscaping, hospitality, seafood processing, construction, garment, health care, and child care. In FY 2021, DOL made seven referrals to federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies or task forces and referred two cases involving allegations of human trafficking within the H-2 visa program to DOL’s inspector general, compared with nine referrals and two cases in FY 2020, respectively. (The FY 2020 number of referrals to law enforcement agencies (nine) and cases involving allegations of human trafficking within the H-2 visa program (two) represent corrections to the numbers cited last year (14 and six, respectively.)) Additionally, five law enforcement agencies referred cases to DOL, and one law enforcement agency requested DOL assistance. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces federal employment discrimination statutes and continued to investigate civil employment discrimination charges filed by or on behalf of victims of trafficking and seek compensation where evidence of discrimination was found. At the conclusion of the investigation, the EEOC has the authority to file lawsuits to protect the rights of individuals and the interests of the public; it litigates a small percentage of the charges it investigates. In FY 2021, the EEOC received 15 new charges of discrimination linked to human trafficking, compared to three in FY 2020. For the seven charges of discrimination the EEOC resolved in FY 2021, the EEOC recovered $6,750 in monetary benefits, compared to $0 in monetary benefits it recovered in resolution of charges in FY 2020. In May 2021, the EEOC recovered more than $4.8 million to satisfy a judgement in a national origin and race discrimination lawsuit against a U.S.-based employer in Hawaii who, along with a farm labor contractor, subjected workers to physical violence, removal threats, a variety of discriminatory pay practices, and inhumane living and working conditions. As of September 30, 2021, the EEOC had 11 pending charges linked to human trafficking.
NGOs stated DOL and the EEOC investigative divisions continued to be significantly underfunded and their work to protect workers underprioritized, which inhibited meaningful or systematic enforcement of labor laws and detection of forced labor in industry supply chains. Advocates called for expanded authorities and additional resources to be allocated to DOL and the EEOC to enhance efforts to address labor trafficking cases.
The government made efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts, including by prosecuting individuals for sex trafficking involving children. DHS conducted operations targeting online platforms used by sex traffickers to disrupt and dismantle their operations and to identify and assist victims of human trafficking. The government’s ad hoc working group on demand reduction convened two listening sessions with anti-trafficking stakeholders. The government provided anti-trafficking training to its diplomats.
Advocates called for greater efforts to address demand for all forms of human trafficking. Advocates urged the government to ensure stakeholder engagement on demand reduction is trauma-informed, is survivor-informed, and prioritizes the inclusion of diverse experiences and voices.
The government made efforts to reduce the demand for participation in extraterritorial sexual exploitation and abuse (commonly referred to as “international sex tourism”) by its citizens, including by proactively investigating allegations of child sexual exploitation crimes perpetrated overseas by U.S. citizens and partnering with foreign law enforcement counterparts to share information regarding international travel of registered child sex offenders. Four defendants were federally convicted in FY 2021 of engaging in extraterritorial child sexual exploitation and abuse, compared to at least three in FY 2020. Offenders who abuse children abroad may have been prosecuted under other statutes, which are not reflected in this statistic.
DOJ and other federal law enforcement agencies did not receive any allegations of forced labor or recruitment fees charged to third-country nationals working on certain U.S. government contracts abroad. DOJ did not initiate any federal criminal prosecutions of employers or labor contractors for such violations in FY 2021.
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) notified agencies’ procurement offices three times of specific concerns regarding human trafficking risks in certain supply chains. Additionally, OMB updated the human trafficking training for the acquisition workforce. Despite a 2019 directive for certain agencies to designate a senior accountable official to ensure effective implementation of anti-trafficking acquisition rules and best practices, not all had done so by the end of the reporting period. As stated in the Prosecution section above, in FY 2021, DoD reported investigating 31 cases related to forced labor in federal contracts, compared to 112 cases in FY 2020. DoD took action against noncompliant employers and labor contractors resulting in 16 local corrective actions, one guilty plea in federal court, 12 actions with outcomes not reported, and two cases with no action taken by DoD. Where appropriate, DoD refers these cases for criminal investigation or pursues criminal investigations. DHS did not debar any entities and did not convict any individuals of engaging in human trafficking from conducting business with the federal government.
The government increased efforts to prevent human trafficking in U.S. private sector supply chains. DHS continued to enforce the law that prohibits the importation of goods mined, produced, or manufactured, wholly or in part, under forced labor conditions, including forced child labor. DHS received 42 allegations and issued nine Withhold Release Orders and one finding for shipments of goods where information reasonably indicated that merchandise within the purview of Title 19 U.S. Code section 1307 is being, or is likely to be, imported into the United States, resulting in the detention of 1,469 shipments worth approximately $486 million, compared with 50 allegations and 16 Withhold Release Orders and one finding within the previous reporting period. DHS modified three Withhold Release Orders and one finding after determining the companies remediated concerns about the use of forced labor. DHS did not collect any civil penalties for violations of U.S. trade law regarding goods produced with forced labor. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative engaged with trade ministers to coordinate with partner countries, regional and multilateral organizations, worker organizations, businesses, civil society, and other key stakeholders to combat forced labor in their supply chains. DOL launched a new online compliance and accountability tool that shows which U.S. imports may be at higher risk for being made with child labor, forced labor, or forced child labor.
The government continued its efforts to prevent U.S. businesses and consumers from interacting with or purchasing from entities engaged in forced labor and other human rights abuses in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (Xinjiang) and beyond, including by issuing an updated business advisory, imposing export controls, and issuing sanctions against officials and entities. In December 2021, Congress passed and agencies began implementing legislation giving the government new tools to prevent goods made with forced labor in Xinjiang from entering U.S. markets, such as the creation of a rebuttable presumption that all goods manufactured wholly or in part in Xinjiang are the product of forced labor and not entitled to entry at U.S. ports of entry.
The Government Accountability Office made recommendations for DoD to prevent the availability of goods produced by forced labor at its military commissaries and exchanges, including establishing an overarching policy and consistent processes to prevent the availability of such goods, establishing an oversight mechanism to monitor implementation, and using available federal information to identify risks. NGOs commended DHS’s increased enforcement of its prohibition on the importation of goods produced with forced labor but recommended DHS increase transparency of its processes.
In April 2021, DOI established a new unit to support interagency work to resolve “cold cases” involving missing or murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives and to address underlying causes, including human trafficking. DOJ funded approximately $2.5 million to a grantee in Alaska for a five-year project to design and implement a human trafficking public awareness victim services campaign that will reach the entire state of Alaska. In FY 2021, HHS again funded a grant program in six locations to strengthen the response to victims of human trafficking in American Indian and Alaska Native communities. In FY 2021, HHS again funded a demonstration grant program to provide comprehensive case management services for Indigenous survivors of human trafficking in Alaska, Hawaii, Minnesota, North Carolina, Washington, and Wisconsin. HHS continued to offer online training to educate health care providers serving American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders regarding human trafficking and its effect on their communities. In FY 2021, DOJ awarded more than $32 million to tribal governments under its program to address domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, sex trafficking, and stalking and awarded $733,691 to tribal governments to exercise special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction. In March 2022, the U.S. Congress reauthorized a law that included a provision to expand the special criminal jurisdiction of tribal courts to cover non-Native perpetrators of violent crime, including sex trafficking; other provisions of the law increase access to federal resources and data for Native communities and support the development of a pilot project to enhance access to safety for survivors in Alaska Native villages.
Advocates expressed concern that the government did not adequately address human trafficking within American Indian and Alaska Native communities, noted existing programs were not designed to meet their needs, and highlighted the vulnerabilities created by systemic oppression, continued underfunding, and historical trauma that have led to significant rates of human trafficking among those communities. Advocates recommended increased investment in these communities, including trauma-informed cultural humility training for service providers, law enforcement, and court systems, and more culturally appropriate and community-specific support and services.