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5th Cir.: FLSA Does Not Require Employers to Reimburse H-2B Visa’d Guest Worker Expenses

Castellanos-Contreras v. Decatur Hotels, LLC

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Defendant, a hotelier in New Orleans, sought the services of foreign national H-2B guest workers to staff its hotel in a variety of positions.  Each worker hired a recruitment company to locate H-2B job opportunities on his or her behalf, to guide him or her through the H-2B visa application process, and to arrange transportation to the United States.  Each recruitment company charged between $1,700 and $2,000 for its services.  In addition to this fee, each recruitment company required workers to pay their own visa-application fees as well as all transportation expenses necessary to relocate to the United States.  Altogether, each guest worker paid between approximately $3,000 and approximately $5,000 in recruitment, transportation, and visa expenses before relocating to the United States.

When the guest workers arrived in New Orleans, Defendant conducted a week-long orientation session, for which it paid the workers; and the guest workers began to work. Defendant paid the guest workers whom it hired through one company, $6.09 per hour, the guest workers whom it hired through a second recruiting company, $6.02 per hour, and the guest workers whom it hired through a third recruiting company $7.79 per hour.  Defendant did not reimburse the guest workers for their recruitment, transportation, or visa expenses, all of which they incurred before relocating to the United States.

The Court held, relying in part on a 2008 DOL Interpretative Letter, that, under the FLSA, an employer is not required to reimburse guest workers for (1) recruitment expenses, (2) transportation expenses, or (3) visa expenses, which the guest workers incurred before relocating to the employer’s location.  In reaching their decision the Court recognized its disagreement with another Court, which had previously found such expenses to be reimbursable, due to the fact that they were employer business expenses, and not for the benefit of the guest workers.  See Rivera v. Brickman Group, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1167, at *47-*50 (E.D.Pa. Jan. 7, 2008).

Further, the Court, likely recognizing the injustice that would result from its ruling, discussed the fact that its ruling will likely have little future impact, because, effective January 18, 2009, the Department of Labor requires an employer seeking H-2B labor certification to attest that “[t]he employer has contractually forbidden any foreign labor contractor or recruiter whom the employer engages in international recruitment of H-2B workers to seek or receive payments from prospective employees, except as provided for in DHS regulations at 8 CFR 214.2(h)(5)(xi)(A).” 20 C.F.R. § 655.22(g)(2). Also effective January 18, 2009, the Department of Homeland Security forbids an employer, employer’s agent, recruiter, or similar employment service from collecting any “job placement fee or other compensation (either direct or indirect)” from a foreign worker as a condition of an H-2B job offer or as a condition of H-2B employment. 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(h)(6)(i)(B).