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Do immigrants report work injuries at a lower rate?

Immigrant workers tend to report workplace injuries and ailments at a lower rate than their native counterparts. Aside from their susceptibility to employer exploitation, they face a variety of hurdles in reporting work-related injuries and infections and in getting proper medical care. Immigrants frequently encounter language barriers and are more likely to work for companies that don’t offer paid sick leave or medical insurance.

What Causes Underreporting of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses by Immigrants?

Undocumented immigrants injured on the job may fail to report their injuries due to fear of employer vengeance that could lead to job loss or deportation. One study by Wake Forest University School of Medicine established that the rates of work-related injuries and illnesses among Latino poultry employees in six Western North Carolina counties surpassed rates reported by factories to OSHA. According to the researchers, factors like fear of job loss, language problems, limited access to health care, and programs that reward employees for low absenteeism rates could contribute to underreporting of injuries and illnesses by immigrants.

Immigrants may be reluctant to pursue compensation for work injuries and illnesses. A 2005 study found that only 20% of the 75% unionized hotel employees who reported work-related pain pursued workers’ compensation claims.

Why Are Immigrants Often Unwilling to File Workers’ Compensation Claims?

Immigrant employees are often reluctant to pursue compensation for work injuries because the system is difficult to understand and employers at times intimidate immigrant workers to keep them from filing. Prolonged waiting periods, inadequate wage replacement, and disputes over relatedness of injuries and illnesses to the workplace can prevent employees from taking advantage of workers’ compensation benefits. The system is hard for immigrants who may be unaware that they are eligible for assistance.

Segmentation of Immigrants by Industry

A 2011 survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that immigrant employees are overrepresented in industries like transport and warehousing, construction, and agriculture. These industries account for the highest job-related fatality rates.

Various studies have shown that majority of Latino workers in the U.S. work in the highest risk industries and perform high-risk tasks. Undocumented immigrants and those who have overstayed their work visas have a high risk of abuse and exploitation by employers, which may result in more accidents. These categories of immigrants may live in a state of anxiety due to the fear of deportation or job loss. Immigrants who have obtained bachelor's or higher degree from schools in the U.S. and are seeking temporary employment in the nation can increase their chances of getting H-1B visas by working with immigration attorneys specializing in H1-B visa applications.

Many industry-specific studies have recorded high rates of work-related injuries and illnesses. Latino construction employees, for instance, have more than two times the odds of sustaining injuries that need trauma center treatment. A 2010 study by Premji and Krause found that Latino and hotel employees who speak limited English have a higher likelihood of complaining about occupation-related pain. Together with immigrant employees, these workers skip work because of this pain.

Segmentation of Immigrants by Company Size and Sophistication

Besides segmentation by sector and occupation into riskier jobs, segmentation by company size and sophistication can partially explain the rate of accidents, injuries, and deaths among Latinos and immigrant employees. Hispanic employees are overrepresented in small businesses and other workplaces where work-related injuries and illnesses are underreported. Because of this underreporting, it’s difficult to determine the full scope of work-related injuries and illnesses. Some immigrants are not properly informed of the risks they encounter at work because of their language barriers or lack of sound safety programs in their workplaces. Other immigrants may misconceive that they have no option other than accepting those risks.