Last May the Department of Homeland Security issued 22,000 additional H-2B visas to supplement the statutory allocation of 33,000 visas for the second half of the fiscal year. In this release, for the first time, visas were specifically allocated to the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. USAID and the ministries of labor in each country had invested substantial resources to establish an H-2 infrastructure. Unfortunately and not surprisingly, there were significant processing issues. One must learn to walk before one can run!
By the middle of July barely a single worker from El Salvador had been processed. This was over six weeks after the visas had been released. In response, El Salvador switched the jurisdiction of the program from the Ministry of Labor to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This has made a huge difference. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was more responsive, communicative and customer service oriented.
In May of 2022 we traveled to El Salvador to meet with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and to observe the recruitment and processing reforms first hand. We observed a ministry organized recruitment event on behalf of Practical Employee Solutions and Omni Hotels. Over the course of the three days, 700+ candidates were interviewed. Ministry recruitment process:
- Advertise on FB
- Workers complete an application process on a government website
- Ministry vets all applications using the following criteria:
- Prior work experience
- Travel history
- Ties to El Salvador
- Ministry follows up with phone interview before adding worker to its database
Most applicants were selected for hospitality positions (cooks, housekeepers, bussers etc.) but PES also interviewed landscapers. Process:
- Workers bussed in
- Checked in and assigned identification number
- Given welcome presentation on the program
- Interviewed by Omni representatives or PES
- Provided lunch
- Sent home
It was extremely well organized. The applicants were professional and well put together. Between 10-15% of applicants had some level of English proficiency.
Media coverage: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tqiFabzjGZY
SEA walk through: https://twitter.com/SEA_labor/status/1519744910307565570
USAID and the El Salvadoran Ministry of Foreign Affairs have been responsive to our concerns and suggestions. They have worked diligently to build up a database of workers with a wide range of skillsets. Communication between the ministry and U.S. employers and agents has also improved.
If you are new to the program we highly recommend that you make a commitment to the Northern Triangle. If the administration continues to allocate additional H-2B visas to the NT countries, there is much greater certainty that applicants will receive their workers if they request them from the NT.