Washington International Law Journal


Increasing numbers of Thai workers are coming to the United States using “H-2A” temporary agricultural worker visas. Compared with their Latin American counterparts, Thai H-2A workers are more vulnerable to poor working conditions and other abusive employment practices for two reasons. First, the workers often pay large recruitment fees to labor recruiters in Thailand, and they therefore arrive with a much weightier debt burden. This debt, combined with conditions inherent in the H-2A system, puts intense pressure on workers to remain silent. Second, Thai workers are more culturally and linguistically isolated in rural U.S. communities than their Latin American counterparts. This comment argues that bringing claims under the minimum wage provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) can be an effective litigation strategy to protect Thai H-2A workers who have a large recruitment-fee debt burden. Under the doctrines of apparent authority agency and inherent agency, the workers’ employers may be responsible for the fees that recruiters charge. These fees are for the primary benefit of the growers and cannot be counted as wages under the FLSA. Consequently, growers must reimburse workers for recruitment fees during their first week of employment in order to avoid minimum wage violations under the FLSA.

First Page