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  • Writer's pictureBy Mar-Vic Cagurangan

Samoa, Tonga banned from US foreign work visa program

The U.S. Homeland Security Department has removed Tonga and Samoa from the new list of countries eligible for the U.S. foreign work visa program, citing their refusal to cooperate with the U.S. government on immigration matters involving their citizens.

Samoa and Tonga have been designated as “at risk of non-compliance" for failure to facilitate the return of their citizens who have been processed for deportation.

The H-2B visa nonimmigrant program permits employers to hire foreign workers to come temporarily to the United States and perform temporary nonagricultural services or labor.

Homeland Security adds or removes countries any time it publishes a new list. Factors that could result in the exclusion or the removal of a country from the list include fraud, abuse, denial rates, overstay rates, human trafficking concerns, and other forms of noncompliance with the terms and conditions of the H-2 visa programs by nationals of that country.

Citing the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s mid-year assessment of Samoa last year, Homeland Security said the Pacific nation’s “inconsistent cooperation with the United States regarding the return of its nationals and citizens with final orders of removal does not serve the U.S. interest.”

Samoa was first removed from the H-2 list in 2018 after it was labeled by ICE as “at risk of non-compliance.

“When Samoa demonstrated increased cooperation with the United States regarding the return of its nationals with final orders of removal, DHS and DOS added Samoa back to the list of H-2 eligible countries in 2019,” DHS said in the final rule posted on the Federal Register.

However, Samoa reverted to “at risk of non-compliance” status in 2019, DHS said.

Samoa, which as a population of 198,414, is categorized as an “economically developing country.” In 2017, its gross domestic product was estimated at $1.13 billion. Samoa’s economy has traditionally been dependent on agriculture and fishing at the local level, but family remittances from overseas as well as agricultural exports have become key factors in the nation's economy.

Tonga, for its part, has been blacklisted as well for its “refusal to accept ICE charter flights for the repatriation of its nationals that have been ordered removed from the United States.”

Officially known as Kingdom of Tonga, the Polynesian country has a population of 105,695. Agriculture is the mainstay in its economy.

“Tonga's inconsistent cooperation with the United States regarding the return of its nationals and citizens with final orders of removal does not serve the U.S. interest,” DHS said. “Therefore, the Secretary of Homeland Security, with the concurrence of the Secretary of State, is removing Tonga from the list of H-2A and H-2B eligible countries.”

Dropped from the H-2A eligibility list was Mongolia, which was determined to have a 40.3 percent overstay rate.

“This high H-2A visa overstay rate demonstrates an unacceptable level of harm to the integrity of the H-2A visa program; continued eligibility of Mongolian nationals for the H-2A visa program thus does not serve the U.S. interest,” DHS said.

Mongolia, however, remains eligibility for H-2B program. DHS noted that none of the H-2B visa holders from Mongolia overstayed their period of authorized stay in the U.S.

“Given this compliance with H-2B program, and absent additional derogatory information indicating an unacceptable potential for fraud or program abuse, DHS and DOS are not removing Mongolia from the list of eligible countries for the H-2B program at this time,” DHS said.

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