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  • By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

US Homeland Security puts the Philippines on blacklist

Asian country dropped from list of countries eligible for work visa applications, citing visa abuse

Philippines high rises

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has dropped the Philippines from the list of countries eligible under the H2 visa programs this year, citing the country’s high rate of visa abuse and high volume of human trafficking.

Under the new rule posted on the Federal Register on Jan. 18, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services may no longer approve H-2A and H-2B visa applications from the Philippines unless it determines that” such participation is in the U.S. interest.”

Also on the blacklist besides the Philippines are the Dominican Republic and Ethiopia.

The new U.S. policy is likely to add another crack to the relationship between the U.S. and the Philippines. Historically, the diplomatic ties between the two countries have been strong. But the current Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte supports a foreign policy that is less dependent on the United States, favoring one that prioritizes closer relations with China instead.

The Homeland Security’s new rule will exacerbate Guam’s labor shortage as the Philippines is a main source of manpower for the island's construction industry. Guam has been experiencing a labor crisis since the USCIS removed the island’s exemption from the 66,000 annual visa cap since December 2015. The National Defense Authorization Act authorizes the USCIS to approve up to 4,000 H2B visa applications but only for projects that are related to the military buildup.

“I am concerned about the Trump Administration’s removal of the Philippines. Though we will still be able to petition for H-2B labor because of the National Defense Authorization Act, the extra step being proposed of employers who seek to use H-2B labor will continue to be burdensome,” Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero said. “This crisis remains a priority, especially given the denial of nearly all petitions over the last few years.”

Guerrero said she will seek a legislative remedy to the compounded labor problem on Guam.

Under the new federal rule which took effect Jan. 19, exemptions may be determined based on the following factors: 1) the petitioner provides evidence that a worker with the required skills is not available either from among U.S. workers or from among foreign workers from any visa eligible country; 2) the beneficiary has been admitted to the United States previously in H-2A or H-2B status; 3) the potential for abuse, fraud, or other harm to the integrity of the H-2A or H-2B visa program through the potential admission of a beneficiary from a country not currently on the list; and 4) such other factors as may serve the U.S. interest.

The federal rule identifies 84 countries whose nationals are eligible to participate in the H-2A program and 81 countries eligible H-2B program for period between Jan. 19, 2019, and Jan. 18, 2020.

Labor is the Philippines' major export, which brings $26 billion to its economy annually. 

In blacklisting the Philippines, Homeland Security noted that the country “has a high H-2B overstay rate."

In FY 2017, DHS estimated that nearly 40 percent of H-2B visa holders from the Philippines overstayed their period of authorized stay. “Additionally, among all U.S. posts throughout the world, [the] U.S. Embassy Manila issues the greatest number of T-derivative visas, which are reserved for certain family members of principal T-1 nonimmigrants (certain victims of a severe form of trafficking in persons,” the federal rule states “ U.S. Embassy Manila issued approximately 40 percent of the total T-derivative visas issued worldwide from FY 2014-2016. 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.”

Homeland Security said it is concerned that the “potential that continued H-2B visa issuance may encourage or serve as an avenue for future human trafficking from the Philippines.”

The federal agency also believes that “these overstay and human trafficking concerns are severe enough to warrant removal from the H-2A visa program as well. This concern is informed by a four-fold increase in H-2A visa applications from nationals of the Philippines between FY 2015-2018. 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.”


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