United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced that 20,000 more H2B work visas will be made available to Haitian and other Central American citizens for 2022. More visas will be allocated for seasonal, non-agricultural guest workers as the number of migrants arriving at the US southern border with Mexico continues to surge.
The extra 20,000 US visas for guest workers will be in addition to the usual annual allocation of 66,000 visas for the fiscal year, according to a US official. The increased number will include a 6,500 allocation for workers from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Haiti.
The H2B visa program, which is used by employers to hire workers such as landscapers, housekeepers, hospitality staff, construction workers and carnival workers, among others, comes amid a chronic labor shortage in the US exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
As part of a $1.7 trillion social spending bill, the Biden administration has attempted to push through several legal pathways for migrants to enter the US. However, Biden’s US immigration reforms were recently blocked for a third time by Senate Parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough.
President Biden is under increasing pressure to stem the flow of illegal immigrants entering the US as record numbers of migrants are arrested at the country’s southern border with Mexico.
Even if all of the additional H2B visas are allocated, it will only represent a tiny fraction of the number of migrants attempting to enter the US. State Department figures show that US Border Patrol has arrested 700,000 migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Haiti in the 2021 fiscal year alone.
Despite 20,000 extra H2B visas being made available for 2022, it’s still fewer than the 22,000 that were made available for the second half of the 2021 fiscal year.
Amid criticism from US immigration advocacy groups, the Biden administration set aside 6,000 H2B visas for three Central American countries in the second half of the 2021 fiscal year, which ended on September 30. However, not all of the visas were allocated.
The addition of Haitian citizens to those eligible for a H2B visa comes after a decision by the Biden administration to deport thousands of migrants from Haiti who had arrived at the southern border in Texas back in September.
Haiti was only recently welcomed back to the US guest worker visa program after being excluded for three years by the Trump administration who accused Haitian citizens of overstaying their US visa or abusing their work authorizations.
In addition to restoring Haiti to the H2B visa program, the Biden administration welcomed the country back into the H2A program, which is for temporary agricultural workers.
Haiti is facing massive political unrest amid scenes of violence and the assassination of President Jovenel Mose in July. The country has also been struck by several natural disasters.
Meanwhile, in early December, the Biden administration struck a deal with Mexico to reinstate the controversial, Trump-era Remain in Mexico policy that forces asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while they await the outcome of their US immigration case.
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, said: “Additional H2B visas will help to fuel our nation’s historic economic recovery. The program will undergo reforms in the near future.”
Head of the US Agency for International Development, Samantha Power, said: “Expanding the H2B visa program will expand opportunities for undocumented migrants while addressing the economic drivers of migration from the Caribbean and Latin American nations in turmoil.”
“This work is a critical complement to the investments the United States is making to create jobs, reduce violence, spur agricultural productivity and strengthen governance in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Haiti,” Power added.
She went on to say that her agency would offer support to connect applicants from Central America with US employers and help them navigate the complex US visa application process.
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