Trump boots Samoans from working visas

The Trump administration has banned Samoan citizens from obtaining certain foreign working visas in the United States because it says the Government has been non-cooperative on immigration matters. 

The American Government on Tuesday announced it would deny citizens from Mongolia, Tonga and Samoa the right to apply for certain categories of migrant visas until at least 2022. 

A spokesman for America’s Department of Homeland Security told this newspaper that the ban came after Samoa’s Government was designated a country "At Risk of Non-Compliance". 

Samoan workers will no longer be eligible to apply for two classes of visas to the United States allowing them to fill temporary jobs: H-2A (agricultural work) and H-2B (non-agricultural work). 

The Government of Samoa’s “inconsistent cooperation with the United States” over the deportation of law-breaking Samoan citizens was behind the decision, a notice issued by the U.S. Government this week said. 

Samoa has a chequered history of compliance with deportation orders from the U.S. Government.

This week’s ban came after the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency reviewed the Samoan Government’s compliance on a range of immigration-related issues. These included issuing correct travel documents to cooperating with orders for its citizens to be removed. 

Samoa was also penalised in 2018 over the same issues. 

But after it had “demonstrated increased cooperation” with the United States, it was placed back on the list of countries eligible to apply for the visas. That decision has now been overturned.  

“Samoa’s inconsistent cooperation with the United States regarding the return of its nationals and citizens with final orders of removal does not serve the U.S. interest,” the statement by the American Federal Government said. 

Accordingly, America’s Secretary of Homeland Security and its Secretary of State moved to remove Samoa from the list of eligible countries.

“Samoa reverted back to being ‘‘At Risk of Non-Compliance’’ in ICE’s FY 2019 mid-year assessment and has continued to be,” the statement said. 

The move comes just a week before President Trump will relinquish office and as he becomes the first-ever U.S. President to be impeached twice, following riots on the U.S. Capitol building last week. 

The U.S. Embassy in Apia referred queries to the American Department of Homeland Security. 

The head of immigration at the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Agafili Shem Leo, said that banning Samoa for non-compliance was America’s right. 

But he argued that Samoa’s ability to comply with requests was hampered by Government policy designed to ensure that deportees were not “dumped” back in Samoa without housing or family contacts. 

“Samoa has been compliant with the U.S. demands in the spirit of partnership and in view of international conventions Samoa is signatory to,” he said.

“It is not just getting these nationals on a plane and [dumping] them in Apia. There are policy requirements [...] for the safe return of these individuals.

“In saying that, he explained that Samoa has repatriated close to 200 individuals from the U.S. over the last three years.”

As revealed by the Samoa Observer on Saturday following a year-long request by the U.S. Government, five Samoans will be deported to Apia on a charter flight paid for by the American Government on 5 February. 

Their return had been delayed because of COVID-19 concerns, Agafili said. 

Those to be deported have been found guilty of crimes ranging from fatal traffic offences to domestic violence. 

“We are a small country. There are no facilities specifically tailored for these individuals,” Agafili said. 

“These nationals left Samoa when they were very young, some were adopted by American parents when they were babies.

“Now after many years of serving in the U.S., they found themselves on the other side of the law, the US Government [wants] them out. We fully understand their decision.”

When U.S. authorities send requests for deportation Samoa in turn asks for a medical and criminal report and a family contact in Samoa. 

“These are our Government's requirements,” said Agafili.

“My [immigration] team has struggled to find families of many of these returnees in Samoa. We had gone to pulenuu (village mayors) and church ministers in some villages to help us find families. 

“This is because we want to make sure that these individuals have a family to go to when they arrive. We don't want them to live on the streets.  

“The Samoa Returnees Charitable Trust has done its best to reach out to help some of these individuals who returned and had no families to go to.

“It's hard and that's why we [have] said many times to our counterparts in the U.S. to please bear with us as we try to locate these individuals' families.”

Agafili said the Government had worked closely with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. 

“You will appreciate that the world is in the middle of a health crisis due to the COVID 19. It is the main reason why the return of the last five individuals from the US has been delayed,” he said. 

“We can only ask for their patience and understanding. Eventually we will return all our nationals in these countries in a coordinated manner.”

Agafili addressed the issue after Samoa’s first visa ban from America for non-compliance in 2018. 

 “[The] Government has never waivered its standing policy to maintain the mutual cooperation to work with the United States Government in all facets,” he said.

“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.

“We will continue to work closely with U.S. authorities to facilitate the pending cases at hand.”

(Mongolia was banned only from the H-2A category of visa programme due to the high rate at which its citizens were overstaying their visas. Tonga was also banned from both visa classes and deemed as posing a risk of non-compliance for its refusal to cooperate with U.S. Government charter flights for deportees). 


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