Over the last two years, SEA has worked diligently with USAID, the State Department, and the Northern Triangle Governments to establish an H-2B program infrastructure in the Northern Triangle countries. Given the many steps in the process, growing pains were inevitable. For example, at the time of the first NT visa allocation in May of 2021, it took the NT governments over two months to identify and process workers. Many employers had to cancel their worker requests due to the delays.
Since then we have worked to rectify the recruitment and processing issues. We are thankful that we have had willing partners who have listened to our concerns and suggestions. Many of these improvements were evident when we traveled to El Salvador and Guatemala for our Northern Triangle Summit this past month.
- Recruitment and worker databases- The ministries have done an excellent job recruiting quality candidates, many of whom are English proficient.
- In El Salvador, USAID and the Salvadoran Ministry of Foreign Affairs has partnered with a number of local non-profits. One of these partners is Urban Strategies. We traveled to Panchimalco, a rural village outside San Salvador, to meet with their team and with returning workers. One worker had returned from working for an Alaskan seafood processor. The other had worked for a bedding manufacturer outside Atlanta. They both spoke of the tremendous impact the program has made to their families and community. This was a humble reminder of the incredible humanitarian benefits of the program. It truly changes lives and communities!
- Prior to the establishment of the Northern Triangle initiative, Guatemala had developed a apprenticeship/certification program to develop workforce skills in its citizens. The programs range from housekeeping to cooking to welding. They have 26 worker training facilities throughout the country (funded by a corporate tax). In 2021, they built a new, hi-tech facility for training for advanced manufacturing and engineering jobs. It was extremely impressive. Guatemala is looking to use these existing programs to provide US seasonal employers with worker with specific, niche skillsets.
- DS-160s- One issue we encountered last summer was the ministries failed to start the DS-160 completion process at the time of recruitment. Instead, they waited until the employer approvals came through from USCIS. Because the ministry had to complete such a significant number in such a short amount of time, the consulate had to send many back due to errors. As a result, many workers did not arrive until after July 4th. Since then, the ministry has instituted a process where DS-160 completion begins at the time of recruitment. They call it “pre-fill.” Now when the approval comes in, only the approval number needs to be added to the form. The consulates have also provided training to ministry staff to prevent errors.
- Consulates- The Embassy San Salvador is increasing its workforce by 10% in preparation for the increased demand. They expect the adjudication process to take 5-7 days. In addition, after much badgering by us and other stakeholders, they are placing the appointment scheduling software from US Travel Docs to Atlas. This change is not expect to go into effect until after the current filing season. In the meantime, they tell us Travel Docs will be updated to allow for group payments.
We are now confident that the infrastructure is in place to handle the demand for the supplemental visas. We encourage agents and employers to look to the Northern Triangle to meet their workforce needs, especially given the fact that we do not expect the 20,000 visas allocated to the NT countries for this upcoming season to by fully utilized.
One travel note. If you ever make it to El Salvador, be sure to carve out a few extra days to stay at the Paraiso Escondido. You will not regret it. There are nine villas built into a cliffside, each with a spectacular view of the Pacific ocean. It is a magical place where you can truly unplug!