KINGSTON — Minister of Labour and Social Security, Hon. Pearnel Charles, says the United States (US) Overseas Employment Programme remains in tact and viable.
“Indeed, we have begun to see improvements in the numbers since the recession and the prospects appear favourable,” he said during on August 30 sitting of the House of Representatives held at the Jamaica Conference Centre, downtown Kingston.
Mr. Charles noted that in recent times, concerns have been raised about the status of the programme, due to recent measures implemented by the US Government, but stressed that these do not affect the viability of the programme.
The concerns stem from regulations enacted by the US Citizens and Immigration Services in January 2009, which prohibit the collection of recruitment fees for job placement for workers with H-2A (agricultural) and H-2B (non-agricultural) visas.
“Changes in the regulations were a direct result of abuse that developed in the H-2 system. Private recruiters charged fees for job placement directly to the worker and in many cases, these fees were outrageous. In a number of situations, jobs were promised that did not exist. The regulations prohibit the payment of recruitment or related fees by workers of H-2 and H-2B visas,” Mr. Charles explained.
According to the Labour Minister, the rules have prevented the deduction of the four per cent earnings of workers to meet the administrative cost of the Jamaica Central Labour Organisation (JCLO), which the US has defined as a recruitment agency.
Minister Charles noted that while JCLO has day-to-day responsibility for overseeing the programme and seeing to the welfare of workers, it is not a recruiting agency and undertakes no recruiting task.
He informed that in June 2010, the Ministry was informed that 100 H-2B workers had their visas withheld, because they had agreed to contribute to the provision of their social welfare services through payroll deduction.
“In correspondence received by employers and sent to the JCLO in July 2010, the United States Citizens and Immigration Service advised that the contribution made by the H-2A and H-2B workers constituted a recruitment fee or a condition of employment and accordingly it was going to deny and return petitions of various H-2A employers,” Mr. Charles said.
The Ministry, through JCLO, advised that all employers should cease deducting the contribution made by Jamaican H-2 workers towards their social welfare services.
In February 2011, JCLO was made aware, through correspondence received by employers from the US Citizens and Immigration Service that it would not be permissible for employers to deduct from H-2 workers’ wages, the payments that the workers voluntary requested to be made relating to their National Insurance Scheme (NIS) contributions, health insurance and savings.
Mr. Charles said that several meetings have been held with officials in the United States to resolve the various issues.
He noted however, that while the actions of the US government impact the operation of the JCLO, they do not threaten the continued viability of the programme. “The recruitment and transportation of workers will remain intact,” he stated.
In the meantime, the Labour Minister will be heading to the US before the end of the week to hold further discussions with authorities there.
“It is proposed and arranged for me to be in Washington in another two days to continue discussions initiated by our Ambassador Audrey Marks. She has been doing a powerful job in order to help this programme. The approach suggests that there is a great misunderstanding of the challenges that confront us. It’s time for a co-operation for us to address a national issue in a mature and intelligent fashion,” Mr. Charles said.
By Latonya Linton, JIS Reporter