In the 1990s, the North American Free Trade Agreement was created to better align the economies of the U.S., Canada and Mexico. One small part of it was a special work visa program that allowed American employers to more easily hire skilled foreign workers in certain fields, including in agriculture. But some employers took advantage of the program.
María Pérez is an investigative reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and discovered that U.S. farmers have been hiring Mexican veterinarians to do low-paying jobs like cleaning barns and milking cows.
Pérez says this is happening because farmers are having a hard time finding low-wage workers.
“What some farms are doing is classifying these workers, these engineers and veterinarians that are coming from Mexico, as animal scientists so that they can bring them with that visa,” Pérez says. “But then, once they arrive here, the jobs that they perform … don’t require a college degree.”
The program known as the nonimmigrant NAFTA Professional visa requires foreign workers to have a college degree. But farmers have been luring veterinarians and others by promising them the opportunity to come to the U.S. to do specialized work.
“Most of them were told that they were coming here to work as animal scientists, to oversee nutrition programs, health care of the animals,” Pérez says. “But that did not happen because once they came here, they found that the job was very different from what they were promised.”
Pérez says the Department of Homeland Security has regulations against this type of visa fraud, but it’s unclear how often it enforces the rules.
Written by Antonio Cueto.