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Filipino Seasonal Workers Banned In The US - Impact on OFW Remittances

Updated on Aug 07, 2020
OFW Workers on h2 visa

Seasonal workers come under two visa programs namely; H-2A and H-2B visa. These visa programs allow employers in the United States to bring foreign workers to fill temporary agricultural and non-agricultural jobs.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the federal agency that oversees the immigration system, approves H-2A and H-2B petitions only for nationals of countries that the Secretary of Homeland Security deems eligible. USCIS in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Secretary of State announced that they will only approve petitions for H-2A and H-2B nonimmigrant status for nationals of 84 countries listed below from 2019 onwards:

World map

Reasons for exclusion or removal of a country include; fraud, abuse, overstay rates, human trafficking concerns, and other forms of non-compliance issues. The Trump administration has put a ban on seasonal workers from the Philippines starting 2019 as part of a broader effort to restrict foreign workers and push employers to hire Americans. 

Related Article: When Additional H2-B Visas Were Released

Coronavirus and seasonal workers

USCIS made temporary amendments to  H-2B Requirements in view of the public health emergency and the economic impact caused by COVID-19  on n H-2B employers to help secure the U.S. food supply chain. 

  • An H-2B employer with an approved temporary labor certification can start employing H-2B workers already in the United States for jobs essential to the U.S. food supply chain
  • DHS is also temporarily amending its regulations to allow certain H-2B workers to stay beyond the three-year maximum allowable period of stay in the United States

To take advantage of the emergency measures:

  • The H-2B workers must be in the United States
  • The petitioner must have valid H-2B status on or after March 1, 2020

Why did the US cancel visas for Filipino seasonal workers?

In the year 2017, 64 agricultural visas and 767 seasonal work visas were issued in the Philippines, according to State Department data. In the notice published by the Federal Register, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) detailed the removal of the Philippines from the list of countries eligible for the H-2A visa citing overstay of visas and human trafficking as the two main reasons.

Overstay of visa

An estimated about 40 percent of H-2B visa holders from the Philippines did not leave the United States after their authorized period of stay

Human Trafficking

  • The U.S. Embassy in Manila issued 40 percent of all visas for family members of human trafficking survivors worldwide and 60 percent of those trafficked having held an H-2B visa
  • Of all U.S. embassies around the world, U.S. Embassy in Manila issues the highest number of T  visas (T-2, T-3, T-4, T-5, T-6), which are reserved for certain family members of principal T-1 nonimmigrants (certain victims of a severe form of trafficking in persons)

The notice does not affect those who currently hold valid visas, it said, though they would be affected if they applied for an extension. USCIS  retains the ability to approve applications from Philippine nationals on a case-by-case basis at their discretion.

Filipino Overseas Workers by Occupation 

In 2006, Richard C. Paddock best covered the contribution of Filipino overseas workers in his piece in the Los Angeles Times where he wrote, “They nurse the sick in California, drive fuel trucks in Iraq, sail cargo ships through the Panama Canal and cruise ships through the Gulf of Alaska. They pour sake for Japanese salarymen and raise the children of Saudi businessmen.”

OFW occupations

According to the 2019 Survey on Overseas Filipinos Workers (OFWs), an estimated 2.2 million worked abroad. Overseas Contract Workers (OCWs) or those with existing work contracts comprised 96.8 percent of the total OFWs. Interestingly, OFWs who worked in agriculture were less than 1%.

Filipinos and Money 

The Philippines is one of the top remittance-receiving countries in the world. Remittances to the Philippines reached  $34 billion in 2019. Remittance has lifted millions of Filipinos from poverty, provided access to quality education for the children, and better healthcare for many households. 

Many households today rely on the remittances sent by friends and family in the Philippines. Over the years more and more OFWs are opting for formal channels to send money home. In a report by the Philippines Statistics Authority, the majority of OFWs sent their remittances through banks (58.0%) while the rest used money transfer (40.7%), agency or local office (0.6%), door-to-door delivery (0.4%), friends or co-workers (0.2%), or other means (0.1%).

The only disadvantage to the traditional ways of sending such as banks and agents is that they have exorbitant fees and lower exchange rates as compared to online money transfer companies. The best way to send money to the Philippines is online and through the money transfer companies. Compare the top money transfer companies and save on every transfer. Here are more tips on money transfer for OFWs.

Due to the COVID19 pandemic and the subsequent measures enforced by the governments to curb the spread of the virus, we have seen a dramatic economic downfall and record job losses. World Bank has grim predictions for the remittance industry owing to the economic contractions in major send countries like the United States.

Despite the temporary ban on seasonal workers from the Philippines, there are nearly 4.1 million individuals who are in the US who were either born in the Philippines or have Filipino ancestry, as per the US Census Bureau. The largest Filipino populations can be found in California, Hawaii, and New York. As families and friends continue to support households in the Philippines during this crisis. It will take a collective effort for every stakeholder to ensure that remittances keep flowing in order to prevent the possibility of erasing the growth and progress we have made over the years.

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