The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced it is banning Filipino workers from the H-2B visa program for at least a year, based on a finding that as much as 40 percent of H-2B workers from the Philippines “overstay” beyond the period their visa allows them to work in the United States.
About 1000 visas a year are used by Filipinos in recent years and the impact varies according to region.
“The Philippines is to Guam what Mexico is to California,” said John Robertson, president of AmOrient Engineering and an official in the Guam Contractors Association.
On Guam, Filipino H-2B visa holders work mainly in construction. Historically, local worker numbers haven’t met Guam’s need for a mass of workers committed to work day after day doing field construction work.
Guam’s ties to the Philippine labor market also became crucial during the hotel construction boom on Guam between the 1980s and 1990s.
And now that Guam is in the midst of another military buildup – with the Department of Defense’s development of a Marine Corps base, in addition to the Air Force and Navy bases that have been here a long time – more workers from the Philippines are being brought in and more are expected to be brought in.
On the mainland, H-2B visa holders work in businesses like amusement parks that need extra staff during summer or ski resorts that need help during the winter months are most likely to use this program. Other businesses that use this program include construction, golf courses, cruise lines, resorts, seasonal recreational facilities and other tourism based businesses.
These positions can be for both skilled and unskilled workers. So there isn’t a requirement that the job be for those with a college degree or equivalent, like there is for the H1B Visa program. But businesses do need to be able to show or explain why they need to hire foreign nationals. So if there’s no shortage of U.S. workers who are willing and able to do the job, businesses may not be able to hire using the H2B Visa program.
In fiscal year 2017, 64 agricultural visas and 767 seasonal work visas were issued in the Philippines, according to State Department data.
The federal notice does not affect those who currently hold valid visas, it said, though they would be affected if they applied for an extension.
“DHS and DOS are concerned about the high volume of trafficking victims from the Philippines who were originally issued H-2B visas and the potential that continued H-2B visa issuance may encourage or serve as an avenue for future human trafficking from the Philippines,” the notice read.
A civil rights nonprofit based in Los Angeles that has represented survivors of human trafficking from the Philippines said the decision was “short-sighted and not the way to mitigate human trafficking.”
“We have seen that many Filipinos in the United States endure human trafficking, deceptive recruitment practices and other forms of labor exploitation,” Christopher Lapinig, registered legal services attorney at Advancing Justice-LA, said in a statement.
“Filipinos do suffer from human trafficking as a result of abused H-2A and H-2B visas,” Laboni Hoq, litigation director at AAAJ — Los Angeles, said in a statement. “The government needs to provide greater protections for H-2A and H-2B visa holders, not cut off access to these visas entirely.”
Aside from the Philippines, Ethiopia and the Dominican Republic were also removed from the list of countries eligible for the said visa programs.
In a statement dated Jan. 22, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs noted that the U.S. was within its rights to deny the visas and reminded Filipinos to follow immigration rules.
“Nonetheless, the Philippines is open to the possibility of working with the United States in addressing these issues, as it has previously done so with similar concerns involving the Filipino Community there,” the statement read.
By the Way, Trump Benefits
Despite the ban targeting Filipinos, the H-2B visa program has actually expanded beyond the 66,000 cap. Last year, the Trump administration allowed an extra 15,000 H-2B visas to be allocated.
Funny, one of the employers who has benefited from the H-2B program are Trump properties, including Mar-A-Lago, according to Vox.
As part of the program, businesses must pay round-trip airfare or bus fare to bring the approved workers from abroad (the vast majority of them come from Mexico). The H-2B database shows requests from Mar-a-Lago dating back to 2013, and this practice has not stopped since Trump became president.
And a Vox analysis of hiring records for seasonal workers at three Trump properties in New York and Florida revealed that only one out of 144 jobs went to a U.S. worker from 2016 to the end of 2017. Foreign guest workers with H-2B visas got the rest. Since they were hired before the ban was implemented, their immigration status won’t be affected – at least, not until they try to extend the visa.
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