Last week the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that Belizeans are ineligible to apply for H-2A and H-2B US visas. The reason cited is Belize remains on the U.S. Department of State’s 2017 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report as a ‘‘Tier 3’’ country. ‘‘Tier 3’’ means the country does not fully meet the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so. Ambassador of Belize to the United States of America and Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States, Daniel Gutierez points out that over the last few months, Belize has undertaken to improve the way it deals with cases of alleged human trafficking. These efforts include but are not limited to, an assigned police unit for human trafficking cases, a special Supreme Court Judge, a special magistrate, special personnel in the Attorney General’s Ministry and a special prosecutor. Additionally, there has been training of security forces and education campaigns. While Belize’s arrest and conviction rate in regard to human trafficking mirror other countries who have been given a better ranking, Belize remained on tier 3 at the last review. The efforts mentioned above are expected to make Belize much better at dealing with cases of alleged human trafficking and at the same time reasonably anticipate an improved result at the end of the upcoming review. This past weekend, Opposition Leader, John Briceno, commented on the matter.
JOHN BRICENO, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
“I think it is unfortunate what is happening to us in Belize as I am told the US Government has been warning the UDP Government of these issues of Human Trafficking and even in some cases about Drug Trafficking where you have some high UDP officials that have been involved. The Senate investigation into the atrocities of corruption that has taken place in the department of Immigration highlights what the US is talking about and it is so unfortunate that the Prime Minister is thinking about his party and not the government because he should have taken corrective action two years ago, a year ago, I think we would not be in the position where we are. We have a number of good Belizeans, I know for example in the village of San Estevan, that every year they go to work in the United States for eight to nine months and they come back and now because of the corruption and incompetence of the UDP Government they are unable to go back to work.”
According to an online report, the H-2A visa is for agriculture and the H-2B is for non-agricultural seasonal work in places such as resorts. In 2016, some 299 Belizeans were granted these visas. The ban is valid for one year.