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News / Nation & World

U.S. allows Haitians into humanitarian-parole program but cuts back seasonal workers’ visas

By Jacqueline Charles, Miami Herald
Published: May 28, 2023, 6:00am

The housekeeping jobs paid as much as $14 an hour, were located at a hotel in the middle of the United States and came with housing and three free meals a day.

Beatriz de Molina, whose client company was looking to supplement its local workforce by hiring temporary foreign workers under the federal government’s H-2B seasonal-worker visa program, had just the right workers: four young men in Haiti. Hopeful that they would all be approved, De Molina helped them fill out the necessary paperwork, and got them fast-tracked appointments at the U.S. embassy in Port-au-Prince while her U.S.-based client waited.

“I thought one of them for sure was going to get it,” De Molina said. “He had a visa to the United States before. He had been granted a two-week visa to go to some sort of photography competition.”

Instead, all four were denied. One of the men will finally make it to the U.S. but only because he was approved to travel under the recently launched humanitarian parole program that allows nationals of Haiti, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela to come to the U.S. and receive a two-year work permit if they have a financial sponsor.

“I’ve yet to see a H-2B visa granted for a Haitian, and it’s not for lack of people wanting to hire them,” said De Molina, who placed 104 workers from all over the world — except for Haiti — with the employer, at the same time the four Haitians were denied the seasonal workers visas. “In Haiti, I am just as frustrated as everybody else.”

Since the end of Title 42, the pandemic-era public health measure that allowed U.S. authorities to quickly expel migrants attempting to illegally cross the U.S. border, the Biden administration says it is seeing migrants “really make use of lawful pathways in a big way: parole processes, family reunification, existing labor pathways.”

“We’ve led the largest expansion of legal pathways and establish new rules so that we can direct people to use those pathways instead of making the dangerous journey to enter irregularly,” State Department Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Marta Youth told journalists last week.

But while some of these legal pathways may be working for other migrants, that is not the case for Haiti, the U.S. government’s own data suggests.

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Two of the three legal pathways being touted as successful by the administration appear to be shut out to Haitians, leaving them with no other choice but to either attempt to cross illegally or to seek a sponsor so they can come through the humanitarian program, which can approve up to 30,000 arrival each month.

According to a Department of Homeland Security spokesperson, nearly 29,000 Haitians have arrived in the U.S. as of the end of April since the program was launched by President Biden on Jan. 5. Like the guest worker visas, the program doesn’t offer offer a permanent pathway to residency, but some migrants, like those under an already approved family reunification application, can adjust their status once they are in the United States.

Meanwhile, fewer than 30 Haitians have been granted H-2A and H-2B visas under the federal guest worker program for agricultural and non-agricultural workers since Haiti was allowed to re-enter the program last year, and no new invitations have gone out for the family reunification program the administration announced it was restarting for Haiti.

“The temporary worker visa programs are working more for Central America and not for Haiti,” said Julia Gelatt, a senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute. “It’s clear that what applies for some countries doesn’t apply for all countries.”

Gelatt said State Department data shows that Haitian nationals only received seven H-2B visas in the 2022 fiscal year, which runs from Oct. 1, 2021 to Sept. 30, 2022, and 15 H-2A visas, which are granted for agricultural workers.

For the first six months of the current fiscal year, which began on Oct. 1, 2022, only four H-2B visas have been granted for Haiti, along with two H-2A. The total 28 guest worker visas are nowhere near the 20,000 visas that DHS says it has set aside specifically for workers from Haiti and the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

A State Department spokesperson said visa applications are decided on a case-by-case basis.

“Whenever an individual applies for a U.S. visa, a consular officer reviews the facts of the case and determines whether the applicant is eligible for that visa based on U.S. law,” the spokesperson said. “Consular officers deny visa applications if an applicant is found ineligible under the Immigration and Nationality Act or other provisions of U.S. law.”

De Molina, who has been in the business for 20 years, said her four clients, including the one who has since been approved to come to the U.S. under the humanitarian parole program, were denied on the grounds that they did not have ties to the country that would ensure their return.

A lawyer, speaking to the Miami Herald on the condition of anonymity to protect her clients, said she also had several applicants in Haiti denied visas after being told they did not qualify for the work they were being hired for. The job? Laundry attendants, washing linens.

Those who closely follow visa issuance say that while the low number of guest worker visas granted to Haitians raises questions about the U.S. government’s commitment, it’s part of a larger, disturbing pattern about the U.S.’s broken immigration system and how individuals in poor countries like Haiti are treated.

As the economic and security situation in Haiti worsens, Haitians have faced longer wait times for embassy appointments— upward of two years— and are increasingly being denied visa renewals. In the last year, priests, college-bound students and even company executives have all complained about being turned down for U.S. visas despite showing ties to the country or funds in the bank.

One U.S. citizen who had received multiple visas for his Haiti-born daughter, whom he is in the final stages of adopting, said that when he went to renew her U.S. visa, he was turned down despite having a letter from her U.S. physician confirming an appointment and a serious medical condition requiring treatment in the U.S. A consular officer, the man said in an interview after the incident, told him that his Haiti-born daughter “was not entitled to U.S. healthcare.”

“If they are saying this to me, what are they saying to Haitians?” the man, who asked to remain anonymous to protect the child’s privacy, said.

With the demand for the humanitarian parole program exceeding all expectations, DHS earlier this month announced that of the approximately 1,000 applications processed each day, half will be selected at random by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, while the other half will continue to be processed in chronological order based on their filing date. More than 100,000 people from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela have arrived lawfully through the pathway.

Observers say no one should be surprised by the high demand from Haitians for relief through the humanitarian program, which has received more than 1.5 million requests, according to CBS News.

“If they wanted to do something for Haiti, they should have fixed the humanitarian parole program,” said Marleine Bastien, a Miami-Dade County commissioner and advocate of Haitian immigrants who has repeatedly raised the issue with DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas during his South Florida visits.

A critic of the humanitarian parole program, Bastien, who runs the Family Action Network Movement in Miami, notes that the hastily put together humanitarian parole program is draining Haiti of the professionals and young people the country needs, as an average of 5,000 people leave each month.

Patricia Elizee, an immigration lawye, who supports the humanitarian parole program, said a number of her clients are people who had qualified for family reunification and decided to take their chance to come under the Biden program because they grew tired of waiting.

Guerline Jozef, the executive director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance in San Diego, says she has told DHS officials that the in-country immigration system needs fixing and the people benefiting from the Biden humanitarian parole program aren’t necessarily the group it was targeting in hopes of slowing down illegal migration at the border. Many of the people coming through the humanitarian program, she said, are Haitiansi who have been waiting to come through the family reunification program.

“They are the ones who have passports,” she said. “That defeats the purpose of the parole program.

“From experience we know that this has not been implemented in Haiti after the announcement was made 16 months ago,” Jozef said about the Haitian Family Reunification program, which as of Dec. 31, 2019 had 8,313 Haitians were approved for immigration parole, according to U.S. government data.

“The majority of people who have been waiting are forced to participate in the humanitarian parole program and now, given the numbers in the H-2A and H-2B visa programs, we need to have an understanding of how they actually intend to implement these programs where people can actually participate,” she said. “If people cannot participate it will defeat the purpose of saying they are providing lawful pathways for people, and people will continue to show up at the border.”