By Roy Mabasa
The Philippine government on Tuesday reminded Filipinos in the United States to follow immigration rules and avoid staying beyond what is allowed in their visas following the decision of the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to remove the Philippines from its list of countries eligible for the H-2A and H2-B visa classification.
In a statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs said while visa issuances are a country’s prerogative, “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.”
In a notice posted on the website of the US government’s official journal Federal Register, the DHS said Filipinos bearing temporary visas for foreign agricultural (H2-A) and non-agricultural (H2-B) may not seek employment between January 19, 2019 to January 18, 2020 due to “severe” overstaying and human trafficking issues.
Both the DHS and the Department of State believes that overstaying and human trafficking concerns are severe enough to warrant removal of the Philippines from the H-2A visa program, citing a four-fold increase in H-2A applications from Filipinos between FY 2015 to 2018.
“The Philippines’ continued inclusion creates the potential for abuse, fraud, and other harm to the integrity of the H-2A or H-2B visa programs,” the DHS said.
In 2017, the DHS estimated that nearly 40 percent of H-2B visa holders from the Philippines overstayed their period of authorized stay.
In addition, the DHS said continued issuance of H-2B visa “may encourage or serve as an avenue for future human trafficking from the Philippines.”
Alongside with the Dominican Republic and Ethiopia, the Philippines were removed from the list of 81countries eligible for the H-2B visa for failing to meet “regulatory standards” like in cases of visa overstay.
Another area of concern for the DHS is the issuance of T-derivative visas that are reserved for certain family members of principal T-1 non-immigrants or certain victims of severe forms of trafficking in persons.
It noted that the US Embassy in Manila issued 40 percent of the total T-derivative visas in 2014 to 2016 that represents the greatest number of T-1 derivative visas issued among all the US postings throughout the world.
“A recent review of certain T-1 status recipients, whose spouses were issued T-2 visas during this same period, shows that approximately 60 percent were determined to have been trafficked to the United States on H-2B visas,” the DHS said.