Veterinarian Leslie Ortiz was offered a job in the U.S.
as an animal scientist for Funk Dairy in Idaho. When
she arrived, she says she was told to perform menial
labor. (Photo provided by Ortiz to Journal Sentinel)
"As U.S. dairy farms struggle to find low-cost workers, some are using the special visa program to lure Mexican veterinarians and engineers with offers of high-skilled jobs, but then assign them to clean barns or other menial tasks — circumventing the visa rules for work requiring a college degree," Maria Perez reports for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "The work can be brutal and dangerous, the shifts long, the wages low. Sometimes there are no breaks — even in a 12-hour shift — and few days off."

Some vets quit after a few days or months, but others are stuck: they can't find a new, more suitable job unless another employer helps them get government approval, and they may lack money or transportation to move. Some stay with the job for years in hopes that the job conditions will improve or because they believe they'll still make more money in the U.S. than at home, Perez reports.

Perez found 23 Mexican university graduates who were hired by farmers through the program but who were assigned menial labor, but she writes that the real number is likely much higher. "Officials at dairy farms that use the TN visa program say they followed all of its requirements and made efforts to ensure those hired knew what type of work to expect," she reports.

TN visas (for Trade NAFTA) were authorized in 1994 by the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement; the number of TN visas increased rapidly after 2010; to date, more than 21,000 have been issued, Perez reports.

"The program has grown rapidly at a time the federal government has moved to restrict immigration," Perez reports. "Unlike some other visas, [it] doesn’t require businesses to first recruit Americans, pay thousands of dollars, or offer a prevailing wage. . . . Visa approval comes quickly, and there is no cap on how many can be issued, but a lack of scrutiny leaves the program open for abuse."