The government has assured Samoans their travel plans to the United States should not be interrupted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (D.H.S.) decision to remove Samoa from the list of countries whose citizens are eligible for temporary work visas to the United States.
The assurance was issued by the Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Prime Minister and Cabinet, (M.P.M.C.), Agafili Tomaimano Shem Leo, in a statement issued by his office last night.
Agafili, who is also the Chief Immigration Officer, referred to the comments made by the U.S. Charge D’Affaires to Samoa, Antone Gruebel, about the issue, as further assurance that there is nothing to be alarmed about.
When the news broke on Friday, Mr. Gruebel told the Samoa Observer the list is subject to an annual review.
“Samoa is currently listed as ‘At Risk of Non-Compliance’ according to I.C.E's year-end assessment of foreign countries' cooperation in accepting back their nationals that have been ordered removed from the United States,” he said.
“After an interagency review between the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State, it was determined that Samoa was ‘at risk of non-compliance’, which affected eligibility for this visa program."
“This decision is subject to annual review and may be modified in the future. We look forward to working with the government of Samoa to address the concerns that resulted in this decision. We remain strong partners of Samoa and friends of the Samoan people.”
According to Agafili, the Samoan government had been kept abreast from the start by Foreign Affairs and Diplomatic officials in the New York about the matter.
“And government has never waivered its standing policy to maintain the mutual cooperation to work with the United States Government in all facets,” Agafili said.
“The government through our Embassy in New York has been in discussion with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on the status and progress of returning Samoans who have been convicted of felony in the U.S. And we have been advised regularly.”
Agafili said the issue of Samoa accepting back nationals ordered removed from the United States is complicated.
“It is crucial to highlight the fact that most if not all of these Samoans left the islands when they were infants and since have limited or no contacts with their relatives in Samoa,” Agafili said.
“Government policy requires all convicted deportees to tender to the Ministry a full criminal history, complete medical report, conditions of their people if they have been released on parole, and that they should have family contacts in Samoa before they can be issued with travel documents."
“The most challenging task is locating of their families in Samoa. They had lived the best of their lives in the U.S. and many do not have family relatives in Samoa anymore."
“We are a small country and we have to make sure that when these people are returned to Samoa, they will have families to return to. And if they have medical and parole conditions the relevant authorities should be advised well in advance."
“We are well aware of Samoa's obligations under international conventions and we are determined to uphold our collaborative partnership with the U.S."
“That is why since June 2017 seven Samoans have been returned to Samoa after assiduous efforts to locate their families and submission of their required documents."
“Like the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, our ultimate goal is the security and wellbeing of our people and this country. The events of the recent past involving those who have been returned to Samoa have proven that meticulousness is to be exercised at all times.
We will continue to work closely with U.S. authorities to facilitate the pending cases at hand.”
In being removed from the list, Samoa joins Haiti and Belize. Published in a Federal Register Notice (F.R.N), the list of countries eligible for H-2A and H-2B visas - temporary or seasonal non-immigrant work visas for agricultural and non-agricultural work, respectively is updated yearly.
The most recent register was released by D.H.S. on Wednesday.
“The decision to remove Haiti, Belize and Samoa from the H-2A & H-2B lists was made as a result of interagency coordination between D.H.S. and the Department of State," D.H.S. Spokesperson Katie Waldman told V.O.A. Creole.
The announcement comes as the Trump administration battles allegations the president asked lawmakers why they would want people from Haiti, Africa and other “s—hole countries” coming into the United States, according to multiple sources either briefed on or familiar with the discussion.
Trump has repeatedly denied making the comment and he praised the people of Haiti in an interview with Reuters.
“I love the people. There’s a tremendous warmth,” Trump said. “And they’re very hard-working people.”