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Haiti workers can now apply for U.S. guest worker visas

By Jacqueline Charles, McClatchy Newspapers –

MIAMI — Low-skilled workers in an earthquake-ravaged Haiti are now eligible to work in the United States under a federal guest worker program approved by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Haiti is among five new countries that were added to list of countries whose nationals are eligible to apply for the H-2A and H-2B visa programs, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced Wednesday. Before the decision, 53 countries were eligible. In addition to Haiti, the program has been extended to Iceland, Montenegro, Spain and Switzerland.

Haitian advocates, including U.S. lawmakers and immigration supporters, have long lobbied for the U.S. government to allow Haitian nationals to participate in the visa programs. Under both, U.S. companies can now temporarily import low-wage laborers. H-2A visas are given to agricultural workers, while H-2B typically are given to those in industries with short, seasonal spikes such as hotels, construction and food service.

“This is great news for the people of Haiti who are rebuilding their lives while their homeland recovers from the devastating earthquake that struck their nation two years ago last week,” U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla. “It’s a win-win for thousands of Haitian families who remain displaced and the businesses here that employ them.”

Haitian President Michel Martelly also thanked the United States for its decision.

The guest worker program is not without its critics especially in Florida. Growers have long complained about the paperwork and expenses associated with the program. Some growers say the legally imported workers are more expensive than undocumented migrants because guest workers must be paid more than the state’s minimum wage. Also, housing and transportation for guest workers’ to and from their country must be provided.

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