A-3 visas are issued to employees of officials from foreign embassies, consulates, or governments while G-5 visas are granted to employees of foreign officials for international organizations, such as the United Nations or the World Bank.
The report, released Tuesday, July 29, found out that from 2000 to 2007, at least 42 foreigners who arrived in the United States on these special visas said they were abused by their employers who are foreign diplomats with immunity. The report added that because of some other reasons, this number could be significantly higher.
“The total number of alleged incidents since 2000 is likely higher for four reasons: household workers’ fear of contacting law enforcement, nongovernmental organizations’ protection of victim confidentiality, limited information on some cases handled by the U.S. government, and federal agencies’ challenges identifying cases,” the report said.
Ivy Suriyopas, staff attorney at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), agrees that the number is quite low and that the report is “long overdue”.
“I think there is an underestimation on the figures that they released. They gave a conservative figure to make sure that they don’t over report. There are a lot of people who haven’t come forward yet because of numerous reasons,” Suriyopas told the Asian Journal.
Suriyopas, who handles trafficking cases including that of Marichu Baoanan’s, added that the report provided documentation and validated earlier talks about domestic worker abuse.
The report also found that officers at the various posts were “unclear about or unfamiliar with certain aspects of guidance relating to these visas” and that few of the officers were aware that they should inform A-3 and G-5 visa applicants of their rights under U.S. law during their interview. Some officers at the four posts also were uncertain about the reasons for refusing A-3 or G-5 visas.
GAO analyzed documents, interviewed officials, and conducted fieldwork at four consular posts that issued large numbers of A-3 or G-5 visas. These consular posts were Manila, Philippines; Lima, Peru; Doha, Qatar and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
While the report mentioned the number of visa holders who alleged abuse, it did not provide details of the cases as well as where they happened. These special visas are issued to foreign workers working in the diplomatic community, which is concentrated in New York, Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia.
The survey said that of the foreign diplomats named in the 42 reports of alleged abuse, 32.5 percent came from Africa, 30 percent were from the Near East, 20 percent were from the Western Hemisphere, 15 percent from Asia and 2.5 percent were from Europe.
A total of 17 out of the 42 incidents alleged by the visa holders were handled by federal agencies. These cases involved human trafficking, visa fraud and wage and hour violation.
This issue is still fresh in the Filipino American community specially since the case of Marichu Baoanan is still pending. Last month, Baoanan alleged that her former employer, ambassador to the U.N. Lauro Baja forced her to work as a domestic worker and not as a nurse as she was made to believe. Baja and his wife were charged with human trafficking.
Trafficking is defined as the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, and maintenance of persons for labor and services through force, fraud, and coercion for slavery, servitude, and peonage.
The Department of Homeland Security investigates trafficking allegations and grants T visas to some trafficking victims. These visas allow victims to remain in the United States for up to 4 years, file for permanent residence, and receive certain government services through the Department of Health and Human Services. This was how Baoanan and her family received their T visas.
Baja and his family, through their lawyer Salvador Tuy, have denied all of Baoanan’s allegations.
In 2007, the Department of State reported that some foreign diplomats may be abusing the household workers they brought to the United States on A-3 or G-5 visas. Thus, GAO was asked to determine the number of A-3 or G-5 visa holders who have alleged abuse by foreign diplomats with immunity since 2000, review the U.S. government’s process for investigating these allegations, and assess how State ensures that its policies for issuing A-3 and G-5 visas are implemented correctly and consistently.
“Weaknesses exist in State’s process for ensuring correct and consistent implementation of policies and procedures for issuing A-3 and G-5 visas,” the report said.
The report detailed government efforts to address the abuse of domestic workers by foreign diplomats within the United States but this was not an easy proposition since diplomats in the United States are covered by immunity.
“Law enforcement’s ability to investigate foreign diplomats is limited, particularly if the subject has full immunity or inviolable premises are involved. Diplomats with full immunity have the highest degree of privileges and immunities. They are considered “personally inviolable” and cannot be detained,” the report said.
The diplomats’ residences are inviolable and cannot be entered or searched without their consent, making it harder for investigators specially since abuse of household workers typically takes place in the employer’s residence. According to the report, victims may not cooperate out of fear that the employers will use their political status and connections to harm them or their families or that they will be deported if they leave their employment situations.
The report recommended the collection of records on such allegations, the establishment of an alert system for such violations, and a spot-checking of visas issued to diplomats’ household staff.