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Low-Income New Jersey Immigrants Fight Wage Theft, Other Violations of Workplace Laws

801382_56081442_02132012.jpgFor many immigrants in New York and New Jersey, getting to the United States and finding a job only leads to more problems, as dishonest employers withhold wages and subject workers to harsh conditions. Playing on a lack of familiarity with U.S. laws and fear of losing immigration status, some employers keep workers in state of dependence, where they fear to assert their rights under various labor laws. Some support is available to immigrants in these situations, but it remains a serious problem for many.

Voice of America recently described the case of “Mrs. Kim,” a Chinese immigrant who worked at a Bergen County, New Jersey Korean restaurant. She worked there for several years after arriving in the United States, and did well for some time. When business began to perform poorly, her boss began delaying paychecks or withholding them entirely. The boss went a step further, asking employees to lend money back to the business. Kim agreed to this for some time, eventually “investing” nearly $55,000. Many immigrants in this situation would see little to no recourse, but Kim decided to fight back. She has filed suit against her former employer, seeking $40,000 in unpaid wages and other liquidated damages.

Employers who engage in behavior like this often keep their employees under control by threatening to report them to immigration authorities if they do anything to challenge the employer. Language barriers, lack of education or understanding of legal rights and protections, and fear of immigration authorities often keep immigrants in low-wage fields from asserting their rights. This can apply to undocumented immigrants and documented ones alike, when people do not understand the rights they have under the law.

A survey cited in the Voice of America report, conducted in 2008 by the Center for Urban Economic Development and other groups, revealed the extent of this problem in many immigrant communities. The survey compiled responses from 4,000 workers in low-wage jobs in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York. Seventy percent of the respondents identified themselves as immigrants. Twenty-six percent were routinely paid below minimum wage, and seventy-six percent of workers who worked overtime did not receive the overtime rate mandated by law. The survey also found that Asian immigrants suffered from wage theft and other abuses at a higher rate than other immigrant groups.

In response to reports of abuse like this, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) reports that it has hired additional investigators, many of whom focus on specific immigrant communities, to better enforce the laws. The WHD enforces federal labor laws on minimum wage, overtime pay, family and medical leave, and more. It reportedly collected $224.8 million in back wages nationwide in 2011 for 275,000 workers. Immigrants will probably always present a tempting target for unscrupulous employers, but resources are available to help people who have suffered from wage theft and other abuses.

The New York immigration lawyers at Samuel C. Berger, P.C. help immigrants seeking visas to come to, or remain in, the United States. To schedule a consultation with one of our skilled attorneys today, contact us online or at (212) 380-8117.

More Blog Posts:

Family Convicted of Defrauding New York Immigrants in Green Card Scam, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, February 3, 2012
Flight School Owner Arrested for Alleged Immigration Fraud, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, December 27, 2011
Federal Officials Launch Immigration Scam Education Campaign, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, December 22, 2011
Photo credit: ‘Talk 2’ by porah on stock.xchng.