US Congress members request expedited US visas for Haitians

With this month marking the two year anniversary of Haiti's massive earthquake, members of the US Congress along with Haitian-American community leaders are urging the Obama administration to expedite visas for more Haitians to live and work in the US.

Specifically, they are asking to fast-track visas for tens of thousands of Haitians whose applications have already been approved but could take many more years for a visa to be issued. This is due to a cap on the number of visas that the US grants each year.

Eight members of Florida's congressional delegation sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano detailing the delay in visas being awarded to Haitians. According to the letter, an estimated 100,000 Haitians are on the waiting list for visas to join their families in the US; More than 15,000 of them are the spouses and children of US citizens.

"As a new Haitian government takes shape, and as the country still grapples with cholera and post-earthquake reconstruction, additional help is needed," the letter stated.

Similar exceptions have been made for citizens of other countries such as Cuba. Thousands of Cubans have been approved to join relatives in the US under the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program created in 2007.

Supporters of increasing Haitian immigration claim that the money Haitians could earn in the US would be vital to Haiti's recovery efforts; Haitians working abroad send home more than $1 billion each year to support their family. The members of Congress also requested that Haitians be allowed to apply for certain low-skilled, temporary worker visas. Currently, Haiti is excluded from the H-2A and H-2B visa programs that allow US employers to bring foreign nationals into the country for temporary work.

"Since remittances undoubtedly play such a huge role in Haiti's reconstruction and stabilization efforts, it is critically important that we explore additional ways to help Haitians," the letter said. "Low-skilled, temporary employment seems to be one way in which a limited number of Haitians may come to the United States, reunite with their families, help build the U.S. economy, and, most importantly, assist Haiti in its reconstruction through repatriated skills and capital."

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