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Since 2011, the U.S. State Department has issued hundreds of thousands of H-2A and H-2B visas annually. At the same time, the U.S. Department of Labor has launched only hundreds of investigations each year into wage theft abuses against these workers. See the charts below for investigations launched and visas issued by year.

Companies employing workers on H-2A or H-2B visas must abide by special regulations meant to protect such employees. Among them are requirements that employers reimburse employees’ visa and travel costs and to provide housing to workers. That doesn’t mean they always do. See the table below for the most common violations related to guest workers from 2005 through 2020.

The use of H-2A and H-2B visa holders varies greatly by industry. They are heavily represented in agriculture work, including as field hands and food processing workers. With more workers comes increased opportunites for abuse. See the table below for the number of guest worker-related investigations by industry, along with the total backwages assessed and the number of investigations per 100,000 total workers from 2005 through 2020.

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Joe Yerardi is a data reporter at the Center for Public Integrity, reporting on a broad range of topics....