Headline — 24 January 2018 — by Rowland A. Parks
AG Peyrefitte criticizes US’s banning of H2 work visas as “cowardly and hypocritical”

FM Elrington says  Belize has “serious limitations” in combating human trafficking; the Opposition Leader says it’s simply UDP corruption and incompetence

BELIZE CITY, Mon. Jan. 22, 2018– The US Department of Homeland Security, in coordination with the Department of State, named three countries last Wednesday — Belize, Haiti and Samoa — which will no longer be receiving the H2 work visa for at least 2018.

On Thursday, the reasons that the three countries were banned from receiving the temporary work visas were published in The Federal Register, which is the daily record and archive of the U.S. federal government.

The Federal Register cited the Government of Belize’s poor performance in combating human trafficking as the reason that Belizean workers would not be able to access the work visa.

Interestingly, this action on the part of the US Government comes only one month after Belize voted in a UN resolution against a US motion making Jerusalem the capital of Israel.

Belize is listed on the U.S. Department of State’s 2017 Trafficking in Persons 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,” said The Federal Register.

On Friday, Foreign Minister Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington commented on the US Government’s decision not to grant the work visas to Belizeans, who only last year had received 299 visas, according to the US Embassy in Belmopan.

Elrington was asked if it was mere coincidence that the US stripped Belize of the work visas at this time.

“No, actually, the Americans have indicated why. They have decided not to grant the visas, and the reason they are giving is that we have not complied with their expectation in terms of human trafficking. That is something that they had been warning us about for some time now.

“And they have formed the view, rightly or wrongly, that we are not doing sufficiently to satisfy them. And so, with a view to try to pressure us to be more proactive in dealing with this very serious issue, they’ve decided to limit…restrict the granting of visas, certain types of visas at this time,” he commented.

If Foreign Minister Elrington attempted to be cagey in his response to the US action against Belize, that was not the case with Attorney General Michael Peyrefitte.

In commenting on the US decision to strip Belize of the work visa, Belize’s Attorney General was unsparing in his criticism of the US. Peyrefitte characterized the US’s action as “cowardly and hypocritical,” and said that he was very disappointed by the decision.

Peyrefitte said that there are many other countries with similar conviction rates for human trafficking that are listed as Tier-1.

The media also asked Opposition Leader John Briceño about the US decision to deny Belizeans access to the work visa, which it will review after one year has passed.

The PUP Leader laid the blame squarely at the door of the United Democratic Party government of Prime Minister Dean O. Barrow.

“The reality is that the United States government has been calling out the government on the serious issues of human trafficking and they believe that there are high officials that are involved, both in human trafficking and drug trafficking, and that we are turning a blind eye, and until we take decisive steps, until we take decisive actions, they are going to continue to punish us,” he said.

Briceño went on to say, “And it’s unfortunate that it’s not the ministers that are going to suffer, because as Minister Castro says, he doesn’t want to go to the United States, so he is not going to apply for a visa. But that aside, there are people, hardworking Belizeans that go every year to work for 8-9 months in the US, and then they come back.

“There are several people in San Estevan that I know, every year they go to work, and now, because of the corruption and the incompetence of the Dean Barrow administration, they will be unable to continue to work in the United States,” Briceño said.

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Deshawn Swasey

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