U.S. Filipinos on visa ban: Address roots of trafficking instead of blaming Filipino migrant workers

January 28, 2019

Migrante USA and GABRIELA USA raise alarm at the recent memo issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) banning Filipino workers from acquiring H-2A and H2B visas from now until January 18, 2020. H-2A visas are temporary visas given to foreigners for seasonal, or temporary, agricultural work, while H-2B visas are for foreign nonagricultural workers. DHS and the Department of State (DOS) cite the increase in the number of Filipino H-2B holders overstaying (in fiscal year 2017) and the high volume of trafficking victims from the Philippines who were originally issued H-2B visas as bases for the ban.

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In response, Philippine Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in an interview that Filipinos in the U.S. “have to face the music” if they have violated immigration laws and that “America is not the only place where our countrymen can go.”

In contrast to this analysis, Migrante USA Chairperson Bernadette Herrera says, “Simply telling them to look for other countries to go to while the ban is enforced is insensitive and futile. Instead of telling our fellow Filipinos to face the consequences of overstaying or finding jobs in other countries, the Duterte administration should take responsibility of the conditions that force Filipinos to find jobs away abroad, which put them at risk of overstaying and becoming victims of human trafficking.”

“The poor conditions of employment force H-2A/H-2B visa holders to overstay: very low pay, exorbitant visa renewal fees, hardship and debt bondage disabling them to go home after contract. Furthermore, many of our kababayan become victims of human trafficking due to the unscrupulous labor practices of American businesses as well as the deregulated recruitment industry in the Philippines that bureaucrats and private businesses profit of. This ‘guest worker visa program’ is essentially ‘legalized slavery’”, says Susan Pineda, Rights and Welfare Vice-Chair of Gabriela D.C.

The recent DHS decision to ban Filipinos from receiving H-2B visas due to the high volume of H-2B visa-related trafficking stands in contrast to the 2018 U.S. State Department report affirming the 3-year stint of the Philippines in Tier 1 ranking, signifying that the Philippine government is “meeting minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.”

“The U.S. government will continue to resort to such stop-gap measures to mask their poorly regulated, for-profit and anti-worker labor and immigration policies that only benefit the 1%. But ultimately, Filipinos will continue to gamble abroad for a brighter future unless there are real productive industries with livable wages and land to till back home,” adds Herrera.

Almost three years after Duterte promised that change would come, today, at least 60% of the workforce or 25 Filipino million workers are engaged in contractual labor without benefits and job security. The minimum daily wage stands below $10 (and as low as $6 a day in remote regions), about half of the family daily living wage (required to sustain a family of 5) of $19. Further, the purchasing power of the Philippine peso is reduced by the inflation rate caused by the new TRAIN tax law. Consequently, over 6,500 Filipinos leave the country every day in search of better opportunities abroad.

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Migrante USA is an alliance of Filipino worker and migrant organizations dedicated to fighting for rights and welfare of Filipinos in the U.S. and for the genuine democracy and freedom in the Philippines.

GABRIELA USA is a grassroots-based alliance of progressive Filipino women’s organizations in the United States seeking to wage a struggle for the liberation of all oppressed Filipino women and the rest of our people.

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