U.S. to withhold some types of temporary work visas to Filipinos for a year

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President Rodrigo Duterte (R) and U.S. President Donald Trump (L). (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 22) — The U.S. government has imposed a one-year ban on issuing some temporary work visas to Filipinos over concerns of "severe" overstaying and human trafficking.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of State (DOS) delisted the Philippines from countries eligible to participate in the H-2A and H-2B programs, according to a document published on the Federal Register, effective January 18 this year to January 19, 2020.

This means Filipinos will not be issued visas for temporary or seasonal work in the agricultural (H-2A) and non-agricultural (H-2B) sectors. Other types of visas remain available to Filipinos, including H-1B for those engaged in specialty occupation, which includes "fashion models of distinguished merit and ability and government-to-government research and development, or co-production projects administered by the Department of Defense."

"The Philippines has a high H-2B overstay rate. In FY 2017, DHS estimated that nearly 40 percent of H-2B visa holders from the Philippines overstayed their period of authorized stay," the DHS said.

It also expressed concern over the high volume of trafficking victims from the Philippines who were originally issued H-2B visas. "Continued H-2B visa issuance may encourage or serve as an avenue for future human trafficking from the Philippines," it added.

The DHS said these overstay and human trafficking concerns "are severe enough to warrant removal from the H-2A visa program as well."

"This concern is informed by a four-fold increase in H-2A visa applications from nationals of the Philippines between FY 2015-2018. The Philippines' continued inclusion creates the potential for abuse, fraud, and other harm to the integrity of the H-2A or H-2B visa programs," it added.

In response to the U.S. decision, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) reminded Filipinos to follow immigration and visa rules.

"As visa issuances are a country's prerogative, the DFA notes the concerns that led the DHS to arrive at its decision. Nonetheless, the Philippines is open to the possibility of working with the United States in addressing these issues, as it has previously done so with similar concerns involving the Filipino Community there," the agency said in a statement.

Malacañang said the DFA and the Philippine ambassador to the U.S. should attend to the situation as it has yet to receive an official report.

"First we need to know of there is basis for the decision. If we see na wala naman then we will ask for a reconsideration," Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a media briefing Tuesday.

"We will respect if they have basis for that. We will only react if our workers are being mistreated, maltreated, or being discriminated against but if they violated the laws of the U.S., then they have to face the music," Panelo added.

For now, Panelo said Filipinos seeking to work abroad can do so in countries other than the U.S.