US expands guest worker programme for Haiti, Central America

The number of H-2B visas will increase by 20,000, including 6,500 for Central America and Haiti, as migration spikes.

A migrant carries a child during a protest in favour of migration in Mexico City on Thursday. As the number of migrants at its southern border rises, the US has expanded its guest worker programme for low-skilled labourers [Toya Sarno Jordan/Reuters]

The United States is expanding its guest worker programme with an additional 20,000 visas available for seasonal, non-agricultural guest workers, as the number of migrants hoping to enter the country spikes at its southern border.

The extra H-2B visas would be in addition to the annual allotment of 66,000 visas for the fiscal year, a US official told the Reuters news agency on Monday. A formal announcement on the increased number, including 6,500 visas for workers from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Haiti through March 31, is expected later in the day.

The expansion of the H-2B visa programme, used to employ landscapers, housekeepers, hotel employees and construction and carnival workers, among others, comes as the US labour market continues to face shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The White House has touted efforts to create legal pathways for migrants to come to the US as record numbers of migrants have been arrested at the southern border under the administration of President Joe Biden.

Even if all 6,500 visas are used, this represents just a fraction of the migrants trying to reach the US. US Border Patrol arrested more than 700,000 migrants from those four countries in the fiscal year 2021.

The additional 20,000 visas are a slight drop from the 22,000 made available for the second half of the fiscal year.

The Biden administration earlier this month struck an agreement with the Mexican government to reinstate a controversial Trump-era policy that forced asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for their US court hearings.

The US Department of Homeland Security said the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), dubbed “Remain in Mexico”, restarted on December 6. Once it is again fully operational, the programme will see people returned to Mexico via seven border crossings in the US states of California, Arizona and Texas.

Some 70,000 people, including children, were sent back to Mexico under MPP, which Biden had initially sought to end as part of his pledge to reverse some of his predecessor Donald Trump’s most hardline, anti-immigration policies.

Following criticism from rights groups, the Biden administration set aside 6,000 H-2B visas for the three Central American countries during the second half of the fiscal year 2021, which ended on September 30, but fell short of filling all of those slots.

The addition of Haiti follows Biden’s decision to deport some Haitians after thousands arrived in southern Texas in September. The country has faced political instability and violence following the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July as well as natural disasters.

The news comes following a deadly truck crash earlier this month in southern Mexico, which killed 54 migrants and injured 54 others.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies