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Immigration News

Mexican Guest Workers File Claims with BP

Although thousands have lost their jobs as a result of BP’s massive oil spill, for those workers here as guest workers, primarily hotel workers and shellfish processors, the problems are unique.  Under an H-2B visa, you are allowed to work only for the employer listed on the visa and you are obligated to leave the US within 10 days of discontinued employment.

Ramada Beach Resort in Fort Walton Beach Fl laid off five Mexican housekeepers on June 30, although they had contracts guaranteeing work until Nov 1. Most Mexicans take out a loan of $1000 or more to pay for the trip to the US with plans of paying it back with their earnings. To furtherer complicate matters, if they do not pay back the loan they loose all future hope of being sponsored for another visa and job. Many guest workers are stuck waiting in the US for some relief from BP and ultimately some employment.

“What they face is basically a guillotine the moment they’re laid off,” said Saket Soni, executive director of the Alliance of Guest workers for Dignity, a grass-roots New Orleans organization that is helping the laid-off housekeepers, and other guest workers laid off from a Baton Rouge seafood processor, file claims with BP. “We would like to see them treated not as disposable workers, but as people who deserve relief in a disaster.”

The alliance helped Mr. Luna Espinoza filed a BP claim for lost wages of $5,498.63, backed up by a letter from Ramada saying that his layoff was due to the oil spill. He has not yet received compensation, though. On July 9, the alliance filed a petition with the Labor Department, asking that it issue a formal policy directing those in the spill zone who employ guest workers to pay all the wages due under the contract, as well as the guest workers’ fare home.

“It shouldn’t be on the guest workers’ shoulders to bear the costs of the spill,” Mr. Soni said. “The employers are in a much better position to get BP to reimburse them.”

And for now, the wait continues.