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More Guatemalans take advantage of temporary travel options to work in North America

José Colindres has a used car import business that he started a few years ago when he decided to work on his own. In 2020, with the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic, sales dropped significantly and business stopped.

Despite his experience in packaging, plastics and food production plants, Colindres had difficulty finding a job and his desire to reactivate the car importer seemed increasingly difficult.

While María Fernanda Layney and María Luz Barrios, shared the fact of having worked for the call center industry with American clients. Both aspired to broaden their work experiences and save to start their own businesses.

Coincidentally, through references from friends and thanks to social networks, Colindres, Layney and Barrios learned of an agreement established between the governments of Guatemala and the United States in 2019, with the aim of linking Guatemalan workers with employment opportunities that generated through regular, orderly and safe migration.

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“I saw an opportunity to travel safely and return to my family to reactivate my business and thanks to this work, I have managed to reactivate it,” said Colindres.

“The most important thing for me is to achieve new experiences, but traveling legally and working in companies that meet all safety standards,” Barrios emphasized.

Mobility Unit

These are just a few examples of the way Guatemalan workers take advantage of options to travel regularly to work temporarily in the United States and the numbers are increasing: from 39 in 2020 to 697 in 2021 and 1,948 in 2022. And to Canada they went from 80 in 2020 to 219 in 2021 and 89 this year.

Currently, the United States is facing a labor shortage due to early retirement of workers, Covid-19, the lack of childcare and the desire of North Americans to start a business. In January 2022, that government made available 6,500 H-2B visas, for temporary non-agricultural work for the hiring of personnel until March 31 from Haiti, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

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At the end of that month, it announced an additional 11,500 H-2B visas, always for Haitian, Salvadoran, Guatemalan and Honduran citizens, for the period between April 1 and September 30.

To respond to the growing requests from US companies seeking to fill the shortage of temporary workers, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) supported the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare (Mintrab) to create a regular hiring process for temporary workers. people in different industries, temporarily certified by the United States Department of Labor.

According to a USAID publication, the joint work allowed the Labor Mobility Unit to reduce the time it took to process employer requests by more than half, going from 55 days to 22.

“It was a very fast process. After submitting my application by mail and attaching the required documents, a few days later I received a call to follow up on the process, until the confirmation of my hiring,” said Layney.

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Beneficiaries

From 2019 to August 12, 2022, 4,729 applications were received for the Temporary Work Program to travel to the United States or Canada. Of these, 3,087 people had a positive response: 2,684 to work in the US, and 403 in Canada.

Officials from the Canadian embassy in Guatemala indicated that their government implemented the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFW) to allow employers to hire a foreign worker when there are no Canadians or permanent residents available to perform certain tasks.

The selection and travel logistics process is normally carried out through private recruiting companies, which coordinate directly with Canadian employers, or through the Labor Mobility Unit. The Government of Canada only grants certificates to Canadian companies so that they can carry out the recruitment of foreigners, and provides visas, for which approximately 15,500 temporary workers travel to that country each year.

Recognized workforce

Colindres, Layney and Barrios were hired by a salmon processing company in the town of Naknek, Alaska. The greatest satisfaction of the three is the recognition of their work. “Guatemalan labor is highly valued. In fact, we Guatemalans were the last to return when the season ended,” said Barrios.

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According to the Canadian embassy, ​​at this time, the agricultural sector is the one that most demands temporary Guatemalan workers. While according to Mintrab records, in the United States, in addition to agricultural personnel, the main occupations are: festival personnel, seafood packaging, cleaning and maintenance, foresters or pruners, bricklayers, production assistants, kitchen assistants, butchers. , among others.

“It feels good not only to get better income than in the country, but also that your work is recognized and valued. Guatemalan labor was always better qualified than the rest,” Layney said.

Experiences from Alaska

Three Guatemalans who participated in the labor mobility program and traveled to Alaska this year shared their experience of working abroad on a regular basis.

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“At the end of 2021 I decided to stop working to dedicate myself to studying cooking. Until then, he had worked for five years in the call center industry.

My plan is to undertake and although I could achieve it even after finishing my studies, it would take me more time to raise the necessary capital. When I found out what I would earn by accepting the job in Alaska, I was encouraged because it will allow me to accelerate my entrepreneurial project.

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It was the first time I had left the country and also with a secure job, so I decided not to miss the opportunity. In a way, I already worked for people from the United States in the call center, but the experience of working in the salmon processing plant in Naknek, Alaska, was totally different because the work was in a team and depended on other people.

I found out about the program thanks to a friend in the call center who told me about the job mobility program. I started following them on social networks and when the call came out, I applied.

Now I am waiting to go back because I liked the experience, meeting new people and learning about different cultures. There, our work is highly valued.”

María Luz Barrios: former call center employee

“I decided to leave the call center where I was working to take advantage of the opportunity to travel outside the country safely and have a different work experience, with a better salary.

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I also worked in Naknek, Alaska, in a salmon processing plant and it was a pleasant experience, since the company complies with all occupational safety regulations and there is a cultural exchange when living with people from different countries.

I was there for a short time, since the work depends on the seasons and the production was shortened; however, I hope to return. Labor Mobility can send us back to the following seasons, if the company requires it, or even to other states.

What I liked most about this experience was the recognition of the Guatemalan workforce. That is very rewarding. The company I was in was the first time that it received Guatemalans. Production records were set with us. In fact, that allowed us to be the last to return, since they left us until the end of the season.

My idea is to go back and work a little longer to gather the necessary capital to start a business. I look forward to starting a small business and seeing it grow to employ other people.”

Jose Colindres: entrepreneur

“I decided to apply to the unemployment program in Guatemala. I also wanted to learn about new cultures and processes, apart from bringing improvements for my family.

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I have worked in production, packaging, plastics and food plants. I have been a mechanic and I have also worked in administrative areas in several companies.

I had already set up my own business, an importer of used cars. Unfortunately, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, my company collapsed. A friend who had already gone as part of the program told me about it and convinced me. I saw an opportunity to go to work, earn money and go back to building my business. Although I have not achieved it 100% with what I was going to earn, I have already taken the first step to start trading again.

I was working in Naknek, Alaska, at another salmon processing plant. Everything was in accordance with what the Ministry of Labor raised with us during the application process. We had no contact with the employer, everything is done by the Labor Mobility Unit, we only fill out the documentation, they give us training and then the interviews.

They asked me for 30% of English, basically it was what was necessary to follow instructions. What impressed me the most are the standards of labor quality and concern for the worker. I also noticed the recognition of the Guatemalan workforce.

The best thing about this program is that you go to work and can easily return to follow your plans, be with your family and achieve a better life.

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