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Trump Administration Shuts Haiti Out of Seasonal Worker Program

18 Jan

By Alicia A. Caldwell, The Wall Street Journal

The Trump administration is further tightening immigration rules for Haitians, as it plans to remove the country from a program for temporary seasonal jobs, weeks after ending a humanitarian program that allowed tens of thousands of others to live and work in the U.S.

According to a notice that was set to be officially published in the Federal Register on Thursday, Haiti is being removed from a list of countries approved for the H-2A and H-2B visa programs as its participation “is no longer in the U.S. interest.” The programs permit certain foreigners to take temporary seasonal jobs in agriculture and other industries in the U.S., including tourism.

Haitians represent just a fraction of foreigners participating in temporary worker programs. During the 2016 budget year, 883 temporary workers and their relatives were admitted to the U.S., according to government data. During that same 12 months, more than 218,000 such visas were issued to people from around the world.

The visa change is the latest move by the Trump administration to curb Haitian immigration to the U.S. and comes days after President Donald Trump last week, during a bipartisan immigration meeting at the White House, questioned the need to extend legal immigrant status to Haitians.

Late last year, then-acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke announced the end of a humanitarian program that let roughly 50,000 Haitians live and work in the U.S. in the wake of the deadly 2010 earthquake that devastated parts of the country. They were given until July 2019 to either leave or apply for another immigration status.

Mr. Trump last week was accused of dismissing “shithole countries” in Africa and expressing dismay over granting legal status for immigrants from Haiti.

“Haitians? Do we need more Haitians?” the president said, according to Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D., Ill.), who was at the meeting.

Mr. Trump later denied making disparaging remarks about Haiti, saying in a tweet last week that he only said that “Haiti is, obviously, a very poor and troubled country.”

The Thursday meeting focused on proposed legislation that would offer legal status to young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children who had been protected from deportation under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The fate of a separate humanitarian program, which shielded some Haitians from deportation, was also discussed.

Belize and Samoa were also removed from the list of countries whose citizens can apply to participate in the temporary-worker program, according to the government notice. Mongolia was added.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the visa programs, said the decision to exclude Haiti from the programs was based on State Department and DHS data that points high levels of fraud and Haitians not leaving the U.S. when their visas expired.

The 13-page notice, which The Wall Street Journal reviewed, also says Haiti is being excluded in part because Haitian applicants “present extremely high rates of refusal”—meaning they are often denied visas for a variety of reasons. “Haiti has shown no improvement in these areas,” the government said in its notice.

Haiti was previously removed from the program during President George W. Bush’s term. Haitians were granted access again in 2012 after members of Congress from Florida urged its inclusion.

Belize was eliminated from the program because it was listed in a State Department human-trafficking report as a country that doesn’t fully meet standards to protect trafficking victims. Samoa was cited for concerns that its government isn’t doing enough to take back its citizens who have been ordered deported from the U.S.