More demand for workers overseas, but US limits deliveryFriday, November 26, 2021
BY AVIA USTANNY-COLLINDER
THE Ministry of Labour and Social Security (MLSS), which runs the overseas employment programme under which Jamaicans secure work overseas, indicates that while the demand for Jamaicans to work overseas has been increasing, it is however limited in meeting these demands by the cap set on the number of workers as it relates to federal policy.
The MLSS, in an emailed update to the Jamaica Observer, said “Currently the ministry dispatches workers for employment in the agricultural and hospitality sectors in the United States and the agricultural sector in Canada. Over the last few months the ministry has received an increase for hospitality workers due to the shortage of US nationals in that country.
“While there is no constraint on the ministry's ability to supply workers, their entry into the United States labour market is limited based on a cap imposed globally by the United States Department of Labor,” it was added.
Meanwhile, it was noted, the demand for agricultural workers has remained steady. These are regarded as essential workers and their movement was not affected by the travel restrictions imposed under the pandemic.
The MLSS did not share the quota allotted to Jamaica for non-agricultural workers. However, in a 2021 update on the website of the United States Citizenship and Immigraation Services (USCIS) it is indicated that US businesses use the H-2B programme to employ foreign workers for temporary, non-agricultural jobs.
Under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), as amended, Congress has set the H-2B cap at 66,000 per fiscal year, with 33,000 for workers who begin employment in the first half of the fiscal year (October 1 - March 31) and 33,000 for workers who begin employment in the second half of the fiscal year (April 1 - September 30).
On May 25, 2021 the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Labor (DOL) jointly published a temporary final rule increasing the numerical limit (or cap) on H-2B non-immigrant visas by up to 22,000 additional visas through the end of fiscal year 2021.
The UCIS site indicates that of the 22,000 additional visas, 16,000 are initially available only for returning workers (workers who received an H-2B visa or were otherwise granted H-2B status in one of the last three fiscal years). The remaining 6,000 visas are set aside for nationals of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador who are exempt from the returning worker requirement.
Current numbers for workers were not shared by the MLSS. The programme for agricultural workers is for men aged 21 to 45 years.
According to Government sources, “Prospective candidates must also ensure they have farming experience, are literate, are in good health, possess a valid Jamaican passport, are free of any criminal record, have not been deported from any country, and have not have been previously disqualified from any overseas employment programme due to medical or other reasons.”
In June 2020, 116 farm workers left for the United States under the Seasonal Work Programme established between Jamaica and that country. The batch, all returning workers, were dispatched to the Gebbers Farm in Washington, where they will be reaping apples.
The MLSS said in its recent update that generically, pay and benefits for migrant workers have remained the same.