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CGD studied how governments can use international migration to help developing countries recover after natural disasters. After the 2010 earthquake CGD worked to have Haiti added to the US temporary work visa program, allowing Haitian laborers to work on US farms, without displacing US workers. Our evaluation showed wins for both countries: each Haitian added $4000 to the US economy per month, and $3000 to Haiti’s.
At the second anniversary of the Haiti earthquake in January 2012, slow reconstruction and recovery efforts sparked soul-searching and debate in the development community. Why aren’t recovery efforts moving faster? Are international donors and NGOs helping or hurting recovery? Can traditional aid work amidst Haiti's weak government institutions? Are there alternative approaches that would be better?
Because Haiti epitomizes many of the most difficult challenges of development, it has attracted substantial interest from CGD researchers. Their fresh ideas include using migration as a disaster recovery tool and cell phones to put money directly into the hands of earthquake victims. Below, highlights from their recent work:
Washington, D.C. (January 20, 2012)—The U.S. decision this week to include Haiti in the list of countries eligible for America’s largest temporary employment visa program opens the way for impoverished Haitians to earn more over the next ten years than the entire U.S. earthquake reconstruction aid package—at zero cost to the U.S. government and no increase in overall U.S. immigration, according to a migration policy scholar at the Center for Global Development (CGD).
The United States should take modest steps to create a legal channel for limited numbers of people fleeing natural disasters overseas to enter the United States. This would address two related problems: the lack of any systematic U.S. policy to help the growing numbers of people displaced across borders by natural disasters and the inability of U.S. humanitarian relief efforts to reduce systemic poverty or sustainably improve victims’ livelihoods. The aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake presents a compelling case study of the administrative and legislative ways the U.S. government could address both problems. Migration is already a proven and powerful force for reducing Haitians’ poverty. A few modest changes in the U.S. approach could greatly aid Haiti’s recovery.
In the aftermath of devastating natural disasters in developing countries, the United States and the international community focus on delivering humanitarian aid, often at substantial expense—on average, about $5 billion per year. An additional, complementary, and less expensive way to help would be to allow a limited number of people hit by such disasters seek a better life elsewhere. Expanding international migration for disaster-affected populations is potentially a hugely powerful and very low-cost addition to traditional post-disaster assistance.
In the aftermath of the devastating January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, CGD began to explore the ways in which migration policy could augment US disaster recovery assistance in Haiti. Royce Murray and Sarah Williamson published a CGD commissioned paper Migration as a Tool for Disaster Recovery: A Case Study on U.S. Policy Options for Post-Earthquake Haiti, which explored the possibility of including temporary or permanent migration in response to natural disasters, such as the Haitian earthquake of 2010. Murray and Williamson found that while migration could play a critical role in assisting with disaster recovery in developing countries, the United States had no institutional mechanism to leverage this tool. Using post-quake Haiti as a case study, they showed the dearth of legal channels available to Haitians to enter the United States and identified multiple separate administrative and legislative policy changes that the government could make. These included: allowing Haitians to become eligible for temporary low-skill seasonal work visas (H2-A and H-2B visas); granting family reunification parole to Haitians who have already qualified for family reunification visas, but who continue to wait years for a visa outside of the US; allowing Haitians to participate in the Diversity Visa Lottery; and establishing a new visa or refugee category for people affected by natural disasters. In fact, Murray and Williamson revealed that U.S. law recognized those “uprooted by catastrophic natural calamity” as refugees for 28 years before the Refugee Act of 1980 was written.
Allow Haitians to be eligible for H-2A/H-2B low-skill temporary work visas.
Create a Haitian Family Reunification Parole Program.
Modify the Diversity Visa Lottery Program.
Modify the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.
Through the process of conducting this research and speaking with key policy makers, CGD decided to focus outreach energy on adding Haiti to the list of H-2A/H-2B eligible countreis.
In a CGD Fact Sheet, Clemens explains the potential economic benefits of the H-2A/H-2B program for Haitians.
If only 1,000–1,500 Haitians had the ability to enter the US through an existing temporary low-skill visa program, over a ten-year period, the result would be $200 million of new income directly to Haitian workers and their families. The large majority of this would be spent in Haiti.
1,000 Haitians on H-2 visas would represent about one percent of the total H-2 visas given annually. Despite these potential gains, until January 2012 Haiti was effectively banned from receiving any H-2 visas. (to learn more about the potential economic benefits of migration for Haiti click here).
Armed with these findings, CGD launched an extensive policy outreach effort which resulted in the addition of Haiti to the list of countries eligible for H-2 visas in January 2012. This change in migration policy comes at no cost to the US government, complementing traditional relief and development efforts in the country (Learn more about CGD’s outreach process here).
Clemens, Murray, and Williamson along with the CGD policy outreach team identified the administrative decisions needed to add Haiti to the list of countries eligible for the H-2A/H-2B temporary low-skilled worker visa program and family reunification parole as the policy change CGD would be most able to prompt. Murray and Williamson worked with the CGD outreach team to initiate this change.
Their efforts included: a briefing on Capitol Hill and dozens of meetings: They met with congressional staff; immigration policy officials at the Department of Homeland Security; officials in the State Department Office of the Haiti Special Coordinator; senior policy advisors at the White House Domestic Policy Council; and senior officials in the Haitian government. CGD was able to solicit bipartisan letters of support and endorsement for the H-2A/H-2B policy change and family reunification parole for Haitians from a wide variety of politicians. Statements of support for these two policy changes can be found here.
These efforts bore fruit when, in January 2012, the Department of Homeland Security extended the eligibility for H-2 visas to include Haiti. This policy change marks the first time since 1958 that the United States has expanded opportunities for new arrivals from an area struck by natural disaster, as part of the humanitarian response to the disaster. The change has the potential to have a dramatic impact on Haitian families and on the Haitian recovery more broadly. As Clemens outlined in a CGD Global Prosperity Wonkcast in January 2012, if just 1,000–1,500 Haitians are able to come work in the United States for over the course of ten years this could translate into $200 million in new income directly to Haitian workers and their families. The policy change CGD’s role in the process were reported in the Guardian Poverty Matters Blog.
To help catalyze timely and effective use of this new visa opportunity, the CGD team traveled to Haiti in June 2012. There they met with labor recruitiers in Haiti, local NGOs that provide services to migrants, the Minister of Social Affairs and Labor, the Director General of the National Migration Office, US embassy staff, and the special advisor to President Martelly of Haiti. They extended these discussions in the US with Haiti’s Ambassador the United States, the special advisor to Presdient Martelly, and Haiti’s Consul General in Miami (to learn more about the CGD’s trip to Haiti click here).
CGD put together a package of resources about the H2-A/H2-B visa opportunity to use in communications with employers and other stakeholders. This packet is available in both English and French on the Initiative page.
CGD continues to build relationships with partners in the Haitian government and with intergovernmental organizations, to assist them in building a government-regulated system that guarantees Haitians rights and helps ensure that Haitians are compliant with the terms of the visa.
Yesterday in the Washington Post I proposed a new kind of visa, a Golden Door Visa. It would ensure that at least a few of our immigration slots go to people from the poorest countries, such as Haiti, people who need opportunity the most.