Mental healthcare law passed in Virginia; precedent set

Mental healthcare just received a crucial albeit limited boost in the state of Virginia. The General Assembly of the Virginia legislative body this past month, led by Senator Creigh Deeds (D-Bath), instituted several reforms in mental healthcare, which included extending the amount of time allotted to find a psychiatric bed for anyone with a need; funding for a real-time online registry of aforementioned beds; and requiring state mental health facilities to provide a “bed of last resort”, where if you need a psychiatric bed, one will be guaranteed one in the state of Virginia. Furthermore, Sen. Deeds also secured approval for a four-year in-depth study of the state’s mental health system, which will keep mental health on the legislative agenda in Virginia for some time.

House Bill 293, introduced by Senator Rob Bell (R-Albemarle), also states that when someone is officially ordered to be put into psychiatric care and a clinician cannot find an alternate bed in a private facility, the person will be brought to the state mental hospital. The hospital must admit the person requiring psychiatric care.

It is a crucial step in not only addressing the needs of a vulnerable population in Virginia but increasing the likelihood of Virginia accepting Medicaid expansion. These new rules will enable more people with mental health conditions to seek care, which will require more resources and that will put more emphasis on paying mental health workers better wages while creating more positions to accommodate this increased need. With more resources, there is more responsibility and more need for a larger, well-coordinated workforce to address the needs of this vulnerable population.  Both disability rights and worker rights groups can come together and rally over a cause that would serve the interests of both parties: getting quality care for all people with mental health conditions from a well-compensated and conscientious workforce. 

If you are interested in addressing these issues in your community and in the nation at large, Caring Across Generations (CAG) is working at the intersection of senior rights, worker rights, and disability rights. While the Virginia reforms are more short-term, the long-term view of Senators Deeds and Bell point towards the long-term care and support of people with mental health conditions and disabilities as a major topic in policy over the coming years. One of CAG’s major focuses is the attainment of long-term care and support of people with disabilities and senior citizens alongside rights and benefits for the workers who support them. CAG’s Policy Pillars include “Support for Consumers and Families”, which emphasizes the need for quality care that is respectful and comprehensive to the needs of the people receiving care and support, and “Job Quality”, which focuses on paying the workers fairly and creating safe workspaces while not financially burdening the people receiving care. CAG seeks to change culture and policy in regards to the long-term care and support industry to the benefit of all involved.

            To learn more about Caring Across Generations’ work on the relationship between senior rights, disability rights, and direct care worker rights, please visit their About Us page.


This International Women’s Day: A Call for Visa Protections

ImageIn December, an Indian consular officer named Devyani Khobragade was arrested and charged with committing visa fraud and providing false statements in order to gain entry to the United States for her domestic worker, Sangeeta Richard. The case made international news and even caused some serious tension between the United States and India. Thanks to the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Sangeeta’s story, and that of hundreds of other domestic workers around the world, was told: abuse of the already poorly structured visa system by diplomats is not news to those on the ground. Even back in 2008, a Government Accountability Office investigation found 42 household workers who alleged they were abused by foreign diplomats with immunity eight years prior. The report noted the true number was likely higher due to workers’ fear of contacting law enforcement. We know that not much has changed since then. 

 So what are the visas that domestic workers come over on? B-1, A-3, G-5 visas are used for domestic employees who are accompanying an employer who is visiting or on temporary assignment in the United States. A-3 and G-5 visas are registered with the State Department Office of Protocol, which keeps records of the number of these visa holders in the United States at any one time. In contrast, B-1 domestic worker visas is a nonimmigrant visas for employment and therefore, not registered with the State Department. While applicants for most other nonimmigrant work visas must submit documents containing personal data and basic employment and contact information to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, they play no role in the B-1 visa issuance process and lack information on B-1 domestic workers. 

Domestic workers who work on A-3 and G-5 visas have some new protections put in place by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act- though Sangeeta’s story shows that diplomats and international officials do not necessarily follow these rules. And if the State Department or other government entities do not enforce them, the disregard grows. In Sangeeta’s case, the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service (the investigative arm of the State Department) did take up the case and followed it through in collaboration with the Department of Justice. This is important and we hope that DSS continues to take these cases seriously. Unfortunately, the higher level offices of the State Department later decided to grant the consular officer immunity, shielding her from prosecution. If there are no true penalties for abusers, then the laws and regulations on the books will continue to be scoffed at. They are certainly a start, but it’s up to domestic workers, allies in the public, the media, and activists to press the government to follow through. 

When it comes to B-1 workers, and even J-1 workers, the protections are less clear. There’s movement within the advocacy community, particularly the work of the International Labor Recruitment Working Group, ATEST, and the Freedom Network, for visa reform and regulation of foreign labor recruiters to reduce trafficking on legal work visas.  

One example of a common issue faced by workers on visas is lack of portability. The visas tie the workers to one employer, which makes transferring or leaving the position impossible. Threatening to revoke legal immigration status is a major way bad employers force workers into servitude, or compel them to stay in unsafe or exploitative working conditions. This kind of workplace harms not only those workers, but all the US born workers who have to compete for jobs in a “race to the bottom” environment. There are few regulations or checks in place to protect workers- and women workers in private homes employed by diplomats or other powerful people experience these risks exponentially. 

This International Women’s Day, we must take a stand against domestic workers’ exploitation and make reforms to work visas so they are not gateways to human trafficking. 


Learn more about this issue:


- Yasemin Ayarci, Worker/Immigrant Rights Advocacy Intern

Last week, as India’s new ambassador to the U.S gave his first address, we participated in a vigil outside the building to draw attention to the Sangeeta Richard case. Exploitation and abuse that domestic workers face is far too common and there must be diplomatic accountability in these cases such as this.

Exploitation cannot be ignored and we will continue to work on behalf of trafficked domestic workers and their families to ensure their voices are heard.Image

A New Understanding of Direct Care Economy and CAG

            Despite the fact that there are about eight hundred thousand to two million domestic workers caring for many of the nation’s elderly, disabled, and chronically ill populations, the current state of the direct care industry does not properly address the needs of its domestic workforce.  According to Ai-Jen Poo’s “Making the Care Economy a Caring Economy”, she asserts that the majority of the time, domestic workers, who are overwhelmingly female-identified, low-income, and are disproportionately immigrant or of Color, earn less than the minimum wage from their dominantly female-identified employers, rendering domestic workers unable to properly support themselves or their dependents.  

            Now, Poo indicates that the current rhetoric in the mainstream public sphere creates an “us vs. them” dichotomy that does not help either party (neither the employer and nor the domestic worker).It does not behoove them to see the other as an enemy for direct care is a unifying interaction that becomes divisive when all parties needs are not addressed.  To that end, she argues both parties would benefit from a “caring” care economy, where workers would receive necessary benefits like paid sick-leave, paid family leave, flexible hours, and fair wages and, in exchange, workers would provide high-quality care-giving and respect the people for whom they offer care.  She emphasizes the mutualistic gaze with which our culture and, by extension, our policymakers must use to truly create a just and caring direct care economy.  Through positioning domestic workers and their employers as being on the same side, the rhetoric validates the material realities of all domestic workers and the needs of the employers who need the domestic workers in order to live viable and fulfilling lives.

            Poo’s ideas are consistent with the position that Caring Across Generations (CAG) maintains.  CAG’s Policy Pillars include “Support for Consumers and Families”, which emphasizes the need for quality care that is respectful and comprehensive to the needs of the people receiving care, and “Job Quality”, which focuses on paying the workers fairly and creating safe workspaces while not financially burdening the people receiving care.  CAG seeks to change the culture and policies surrounding the direct-care industry in order to mutually benefit all parties involved. 

            To learn more about Caring Across Generations’ work on the relationship between senior rights, disability rights, and direct care worker rights, please visit their About Us page. 

Preventing Human Trafficking In The Philippines – Post-Typhoon Fears

Human trafficking after disasters is a realistic fear, given the desperate economic circumstances of survivors. Officials are working to prevent this opportunistic type of trafficking in the Philippines a month after the typhoon that left over seven-thousand dead, hundreds of thousands displaced, and millions affected.


 Lawmakers, aid agencies, governments, and people around the world fear that specifically women, children, the elderly, and the disabled will be targets for human trafficking.  While Filipinos struggle to find safety, and security, opportunists will very likely recognize this time of weakness; it is predicted that Filipinos may “fall victim to offers of work in Saudi Arabia or Korea [...] only to find themselves with ‘an engraved invitation to hell on Earth’.”

Given the history of post-disaster worker exploitation, foreign governments are stepping in to support the Philippines with aid.   The United States is providing roughly $60 million in aid and USAID’s Nancy Lindborg assures that they are watching the Philippines very closely.

The long-standing history of “labor exporting” from the Philippines- of domestic workers and other laborers- will be especially pronounced and potentially more dangerous as people may be willing to take greater risks in the face of disaster. In addition, the safety and welfare of children who may be separated from families and potentially exploited is a concern.

Natural disasters may not be preventable- though there’s mounting evidence that human-fueled climate change is a real factor- but strong, swift economic relief interventions are a primary way to prevent human trafficking after disasters. In every day life, people leave behind families and communities to travel for work in order to make ends meet. When their homes, business, crops, and livelihoods are destroyed, the desperation is overwhelming. The key is to beat traffickers to the punch and provide relief before people are forced to risk their lives to feed their families.



Reciprocity Is Key – Japan and Foreign Domestic Workers

         Domestic workers have faced exploitation since the beginning.  There are always people, or employers, who choose their own success over others’ equality, and find a way to assert their power by taking advantage of domestic workers.  The American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ) has a strategy to lessen exploitation, to increase the number of women in leadership positions, to increase the number of women working in general, to better domestic worker treatment, and to help economic growth in Japan.  The ACCJ believes that if they bring foreign domestic female workers to Japan to work as housekeepers and after-school staff for child care, women in leadership positions will rise “30 percent by 2020.”  This increase in foreign domestic workers will, hopefully, stimulate Japan’s economy. [1]


         A concern with increasing foreign domestic workers in Japan is, who is regulating their treatment and work conditions?  Who is making sure that they have fair treatment and that they are not changing their lives for “the better” with false hope?  When people, such as the Japanese, aim to better their own economy, it is important to ensure they are not putting others at risk by doing so.  This betterment must be a mutual exchange.

         To ensure this reciprocity, vice chairwoman of the ACCJ’s diversification labor force, Kumi Sato, is hoping the government will adhere to her plea for each Japanese household with foreign, domestic help, to have a secured minimum of a combined income of ¥7 million and to allow  these women to be employed by as many employers as they please, which currently is not the case.  

         The reason the ACCJ is seeking foreign help is because Japanese workers are known for their costly rates.  The rate of Japanese workers also increases in the evening.  Also, many are elderly, by cultural trend, and cannot take care of a house and young children.  These cultural norms are the causes of Japan’s foreign needs.


         Not only will foreign domestic workers help the Japanese economy, but it will provide “an estimated 500,000 children in Japan” who are “currently on the waiting list for after-school care, with 50 percent of facilities not accepting students in the fourth grade and older”. [1]

         The ACCJ claims that providing workers for day care is not enough for Japan to reach their 2020 goal.  To achieve their goal, it will take the security of fair domestic worker rights and an increase in housekeepers allowed to work for multiple families, and with the income floor, as well.

         What do you think?  Do you think this plan can be enforced while maintaining fair treatment?  Do you think Japan is as concerned with a sense of reciprocity, between the host country and the foreigners, as the ACCJ? 



A Nigerian Human Trafficking Victim Seeks Asylum And Refuge

Human trafficking victims are potentially in the most vulnerable position of their lives.  If they fight for their lives and confide in officials for help, they are putting their lives at risk and the lives of their loved ones at risk.  Some people work through this fear and decide that their priority is to prosecute those who have taken advantage of them.  

One person who actively fought through this fear is an unidentified Nigerian woman who was trafficked to Spain, the second largest female trafficking hub in the world, exploiting women into prostitution.  This woman, while undergoing deportation procedures upon her European arrival, reported the threat of the human traffickers to the Red Cross.  She was instructed to report to officials the threat of having to pay a “debt”  through prostitution. [1] 


This brave woman, in a foreign country and undoubtedly afraid, saved her own life and the lives of possible future victims, as the human trafficking ring that threatened to exploit her was detained.  On top of this victory, she was granted asylum in Spain.  Officials claim that this Nigerian victim is the first to ever be granted asylum in Spain due to human trafficking. [1]

After being raped, being forced out of her country, and being threatened to be sexually exploited further, she is safe.  This is a rare human trafficking case where the innocent get what they deserve and the guilty get what they deserve.  This is a powerful message for those who will unfortunately undergo this torture in the future.  It will never be easy, and the circumstances may not make freedom as possible as it was in this scenario, but everyone has a voice and, sometimes, this powerful tool can bear justification.



Fighting Exploitation With Education – Pakistani Stories of Motivation

Empowerment and initiative are essential in order to impose domestic workers’ rights and to prevent unfair treatment in the workplace.  This empowerment and initiative can be achieved through educating people who are victims of of domestic labor abuse.  Education has the ability to create more stable families and communities; it prevents people from being taken advantage of in terms of human trafficking and domestic worker exploitation.

Exploitation of workers often occurs in impoverished communities that suffer from political and economic instability.  This instability leads to a lack of necessary education and, therefore, a lack of motivation for people to create progressive lives for themselves.  This lack of motivation keeps communities stagnant and allows them to become easy targets on which to capitalize and abuse.

Today, there are some organizations, such as the Aurat Foundation, that enter regions like the Shakriyal community of Rawalpindi, Pakistan, in order to provide an education, specifically for women.  In this community, “200 households were surveyed [...] to identify women wanting to pursue driving as a career.”  This foundation not only trains women, but connects them to the labor market.  This process reminds women of their capabilities and empowers them to make something of themselves for the sake of their family;  this empowerment helps them to break out of the domestic labor cycle of unfair treatment.  Women are empowered to support their families, which then sets a positive example for their children who look up to them. [1]

Pakistan women voters

Education may be the most powerful weapon against domestic labor and human trafficking.  It gives people a voice and teaches them how to use it in a progressive and efficient way.  One woman who took part in this training with the Aurat Foundation, Aliya, has “found a new purpose in life” and says, “I have saved enough from my monthly stipend and travel allowance to send my children to school and afford pick and drop.  I can provide for my family.”  These women are now literate, aware of self-defense tactics, and can drive.  They have saved their own lives and the lives of their families.  This salvation may have never been achieved if these women were not inspired to believe in themselves as strong and capable individuals and encouraged to seek work on their own. [1]

For those who live in communities where an education seemingly comes free, it is so easy to depreciate the value of the academic institution, and it is so hard to imagine how life would differ if education was not part of our reality.  Without education, many of us might not understand what we are literally capable of accomplishing, in terms of reading, writing, comprehension, problem solving, speech, making sense, interacting, and being interesting.  There is so much doubt and self-consciousness that persists without an education.  Education is not just about understanding the world, in its infinite facets, but also about discovering oneself and creating something more.  When people are not made aware of these undeveloped skills, warding off exploitation, which is often times carried out by relentless and narrow-minded individuals, is nearly impossible.


Many uneducated, suffering women want an education but do not have the financial or social means to obtain it;  some women, such as Pakistani pupil Malala Yousafzai, are advancing this fight.  In her town of Mingora, the Taliban had prohibited women from attending school.  This sense of corruption is a different kind of exploitation from that of the Skakriyal community; it is also an assertion of dominance over women but, in this case, an organization such as the Aurat Foundation would most likely not survive against the Taliban.  Yousafzai was shot by the Taliban, survived, and then still fought for her life as the Taliban intended to kill her and her father.  Throughout this mayhem, she continued her narrative and activist blog for BBC, and even spoke at the UN in 2013 to promote education and awareness.  Yousafzai even opened the Library of Birmingham last month, September 2013, which demonstrated the severity and gravity of this issue to the world.  She proved how some issues are worth fighting for.  Without this library and without fighting exploitation, women would continue to be abused in Mingora, simply because of their gender. [2]

The more organizations that follow in these faith-inducing footsteps, to educate and to motivate, the more likely fair domestic workers’ rights will be achieved and exploitation will cease; less young women will have to risk their lives, standing alone.



Nepalese Migrant Workers in Qatar: “Modern-Day Slavery”

         Between June 4, 2013 and August 8, 2013, more than 44 Nepalese migrant workers died from heart failure and labor accidents in Qatar, constructing an entirely new city for the 2022 World Cup.  This tragedy, which endures as you read, does not need to occur.

         There is a stark juxtaposition between the people of Qatar and the people of Nepal.  Ever since the 1940 discovery of oil, the standard of living in Qatar dramatically rose, with no income tax and an unemployment rate of 0.1%.  In 2012, a law passed that requires all foreign workers to be sponsored by local employers.  The issue here is that there is no restriction against forced labor, and foreign workers must have permission from their local employers in order to withdraw. 


         In contrast, Nepal’s capricious political stability negatively affects its economy.  With impoverishment and fewer opportunities, as the government rebuilds itself, Nepalese migrants seek income elsewhere, in places like Qatar where the wealthy can easily exploit foreign employees.

         Qatar has promised infrastructure, roads, nine stadiums, a high-speed rail, and 55,000 hotel rooms for the 2022 World Cup, together worth over $150 billion.  If anything puts pressure on people to act immorally, it is money.  Qatar has also promised adequate shelter for the Nepalese migrant workers; however, many go over twenty-four hours without food and sleep with eleven other people in one room.  One worker complained about maltreatment by his employer, stating, “When I complained, my manager assaulted me, kicked me out of the labour camp I lived in and refused to pay me anything.  I had to beg for food from other workers.” [1]

         The global collective, physically far removed from the matter at hand, may deem the Qatari to be heartless or reputation-driven as they exploit poor migrants.  Others explain it as a cultural norm of the Qatari, one that accepts and promotes inequality and exploitation.  What are appropriate responses to these cultural norms that the Qatari are accustomed to, but by which others are negatively affected?  How do you think global rights advocates should act on this issue with knowledge of these norms?  I want to explore these questions and would love to hear your ideas and opinions below.


         In the meantime, what happens to the 400,000 Nepalese still working in Qatar?  What happens as their passports are confiscated?  What happens if this exploitation continues for the sake of, in this case, the sports community?  The Qatari labor minister, Abdullah Saleh al-Khulaifi, and the chairman of Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee, Ali al-Marri, deny any signs of “modern-day slavery” and “promise to hire more labour inspectors to enforce the law.”  But are the existing laws, enforced or not, sufficient enough to protect the Nepalese workers? [2]

         I think the key to terminating this exploitation is organizing and education.  Educating both the Nepalese migrant workers and the Qatari people who are seeking change will make progress possible.  Progress requires economic stabilization of Nepal, so the Nepalese people can depend on their own country instead of resorting to unsafe labor and migration in order to support their families. 




The Economy, Labor, and Vulnerable Populations

On Tuesday October 8th  in New York City, I witnessed a speaker from the International Labour Organization give a speech about the organization and issues related to labor. The International Labour Organization is the first specialized agency of the UN, established in 1946.[1] The ILO attends High Level Dialogues, meetings, and hearings associated with labor. The mission of ILO is to promote rights at work, encourage decent employment opportunities, enhance social protection and strengthen dialogue on work-related issues.[2]

The labor sector has three primary actors: governments, employers, and employees. The speaker emphasized that without negotiations, discussions, rules, or resolutions things fall apart. There needs to be simple discussions to talk about issues in the industry, placing the issues in perspective.

The economy is changing: globalization has made the need for sustainable development and technical advancement more apparent. The speaker discussed how these aspects can be linked to migration, where individuals are traveling and looking at other places for work.

Vulnerable populations are seen as the targets that are more likely to be exploited. The representative emphasized that illiteracy and innumeracy causes individuals to be to be exploited, forced into labor, as well as become victims of debt bondage and human trafficking.

Indigenous populations are also seen as vulnerable populations that can be taken advantage of. The population does not have a “voice” and the speaker discussed how ILO as well as the United Nations center on providing the “voice.”

The speakers also discussed the problem of child labor. Children mostly work at family farms due to poverty. Child labor is defined as such through the means that it is labor that prohibits the child from growing emotionally, physically, and psychologically, etc.

The speaker concluded that while education is important, there is a need to look at the issues in a bigger scope in order to make progress.

-Melissa Zacarias, Educating and Worker Organizing Intern