Administrator Samantha Power at the Summit of the Americas Fair Recruitment and H-2 Visa Side Event

Speeches Shim

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Courtyard Marriott
Los Angeles, California

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: I’m really delighted to be here on this topic, of all topics. Thanks to my colleague and dear friend, Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas and my colleagues from the NSC, USDA, and Department of Labor, I heard Representative Raul Ruiz is here, yes there he is, my friend—good to see you.

I really want to welcome our colleagues from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras whose perspective on this is invaluable. We can’t do any of what any of the U.S agencies here want to do in extending lawful pathways to the United States without working hand and glove with our friends in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.

I’m going to turn really soon to Secretary Mayorkas, but just want to give a little bit of an overview on what I think is actually largely unheralded progress that we have made in expanding labor pathways. This has been a part of the Collaborative Migration Management Strategy, but I think all of us have seen up close, it is also a primary engine for hope. It is something that gives people hope that if they play by the rules, if they apply fair and square, they will have the opportunity to achieve two things at once: to be able to stay at home with their loved ones in their communities, in the homes that they cherish, and travel to the United States earn good income, bring that money back home. I have a story to tell to that effect that I’ll tell just to offer a human example on how this works.

We recognize, as Americans, the opportunities that these H-2B and H-2A programs can create for employers here in the U.S. And they can be a godsend, providing a viable alternative to dangerous—and even deadly—irregular migration path.

We also know, though, that temporary visa programs are subject to abuse, by scammers who try to charge illegal fees, and unscrupulous employers who sometimes don’t respect the rights of temporary workers. So we here in the United States government are deeply committed to working together to strengthen laws and principles that protect worker rights and dignity every step of the way––so that includes the recruitment process, all the way to the job site. This country was built by labor, and the Biden-Harris Administration believes deeply in extending labor protections to workers to prevent them from being exploited. We are so happy to have one of the most stalwart protectors of American labor here with us today, the United Farm Workers of America, thank you so much.

It will take all of us working together—labor, governments, civil society, and the private sector—to prioritize temporary labor needs and protections.

Again, done right, the H-2 visa program benefits everyone—workers, U.S. labor market, and the countries of origin.

So I give you an example as promised, as COVID-19 swept through Guatemala, a worker in Mazatenango, Carlos Garcia, was forced to close the repair shop that he owned. All of us have heard countless stories of this nature.

His expenses began to pile up, Carlos turned to the Guatemalan government for work. He enrolled in the H-2 program and was connected to a temporary opportunity at a landscaping company in Houston, Texas.

In Houston, he filled a much needed seasonal position, and even got to use his mechanic skills when the company asked him to transition from trimming trees and cutting grass to maintaining their fleet of trucks.

Because of this opportunity, Carlos was able to pay for his daughter’s education in Guatemala, and return home for her graduation.

Historically, too few Central Americans have had the opportunity that Carlos Garcia enjoyed, which is why USAID partners with the labor ministries in Honduras and Guatemala, and the Foreign Ministry in El Salvador, to strengthen their ability to recruit qualified workers, efficiently and transparently match them with employer requests, and train them about their rights under the program.

Our combined efforts—this again, is the part that hasn’t gotten, I think enough attention—resulted in a record number of H-2 visas issued in 2021, including a nearly forty percent increase over the pre-pandemic levels in H-2B visas issued across all three countries. And part of what we have done together is decrease the time it takes to do the matchmaking.

I just offer you a few statistics, and this grows out of an unprecedented relationship and cooperation among the agencies represented here, specifically, with DHS and the State Department. But the time it once took in Guatemala to match H-2 workers with employer requests, we together - working together, have reduced from fifty-five days to seventeen days. In Honduras it’s from twenty-four days to nine days. And in El Salvador where we still have work to do to get that number down, it still dropped substantially from forty-two to thirty days.

And again, the tighter these timelines are, consistent with worker protections, the more smoothly this program is going to run and the better we will be to meet our caps.

We are on track to set a new record this year, and as we continue year after year—we hope—to break records, the U.S government is taking action so that each visa recipient is treated fairly and throughout the duration of the program. It’s not about quantity, it's about quality.

That starts with educating workers on their rights with the help of non-governmental organizations and building the capacity of national ministries so they can serve as high-standard, transparent recruiters.

Today the U.S. government is taking an additional step by rolling out our first-ever Fair Recruitment Guidance for Temporary Migrant Workers, which my Department of Labor colleague, Oliva Lopez, will discuss in more detail, and which we are delighted that Walmart plans to support.

As support for this Guidance builds, we hope it drives employers to ethical recruiting channels in the region, through the ministries and organizations like Cierto Global.

Cierto Global is an ethical recruiting firm for H-2A workers that recently expanded its operations to Guatemala with the tremendous support of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation. And it has set an ambitious goal of recruiting 9,500 workers.

Like Cierto, and so many of you, we deeply respect the value and dignity of each worker who sets out in search of a better life, and we want to work with you all to make their path to new opportunities safe and legal by expanding what is life-changing access to the H-2 program while creating better protections throughout the process.

With that, it is my great pleasure to turn the floor over to Secretary of Homeland Security Ale Mayorkas. He and his team have been such tremendous partners to us and to others gathered in our government.

Last updated: June 15, 2022

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