The H-2 visa programme
Q. What is the history of the H-2 visa programme?
A: As the United States faced labour shortages during World War II, the US War Department facilitated an agreement that enabled Jamaicans to fill critical labour needs in the US agricultural sector. Today, this partnership continues to benefit US businesses through the formal H-2 temporary worker programme. Close employer-worker relationships mean that trained labour returns to employers year after year, reducing costs to US businesses. In some cases, Jamaican employees have been returning to the same US employers for decades, underscoring the value of this programme. Jamaica ranks second only to Mexico in the total number of H-2 visa holders working in the United States.
Q. How do the US and Jamaica benefit from the H-2 programme?
A: Even in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic, over 15,000 workers travelled from Jamaica to support the US agriculture and services sectors last year. Jamaica is well-poised to continue helping the US meet its growing labour needs due to the country’s proximity to the United States, its English-speaking workforce, and its established role in the hospitality industry.
The top 10 states that employ H-2 Jamaican workers are New York, Florida, Massachusetts, South Carolina, Maine, Michigan, Washington, Vermont, Colorado, and Connecticut. US businesses benefit from well-qualified returning workers who bring skills and historical knowledge. Jamaica’s economy reaps benefits as well with many workers sending home portions of their salary in remittances. H-2 workers bring an estimated $100 million in earnings to Jamaican homes, families, and farms each year.
The H-2A programme ensures food security for the United States. Approximately 5,000 Jamaicans participate in the H-2A farm worker programme annually. These farm workers support the US agriculture industry by harvesting apples, cherries, berries, ginger, and other high-value crops. US farmers benefit greatly from the expertise Jamaican workers bring, many of whom have worked on the same farms year after year.
The non-agriculture work programme is also vital. Over 10,000 Jamaicans travel to the US annually to work in the hospitality and landscaping sectors. These seasonal workers support the US tourism industry in clubs, hotels, and resorts for several months out of the year. Jamaican H-2B workers support the services industry from coast to coast.
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