Visit to Tinian

July 28, 2008

We visited the non-resident workers and some friends on Tinian yesterday to listen to their concerns. Over one hundred guest workers and a local resident attended the gathering at Krammer Beach. Many of the same concerns and questions I heard on Friday and Saturday on Saipan were repeated. They included: status of long-term guest workers and those with US citizen children, being able to have input to regulations and policies for PL 110-229, stimulus checks, social security deductions and issues, the impact of PL 110-229 on small businesses and investors, status concerns for those with CNMI permanent residency, and status concerns for alien spouses of FAS citizens. I also met with individuals with specific labor concerns.

Workers reported that there was much confusion with stimulus checks. One guest worker received multiple checks (that were returned), and others were still waiting for theirs. Some workers wanted to know why when they inquired at the Tax and Revenue offices about the status of their stimulus checks, they were questioned regarding their passports, the number of US citizen children they had, and other questions related to their work and length of stay in the CNMI. One worker was told she was not eligible for a stimulus check because she was a domestic helper. As in Saipan, workers are confused as to when they will receive their checks, how the Dept. of Finance is determining check amounts, and how the distribution process works. Some were concerned that they did not receive either their checks or a letter stating they had discrepancies with their tax returns. Several weeks ago a non-resident worker group from Saipan delivered a letter with concerns on stimulus checks to the US Department of Justice. There appears to be much confusion that needs to be clarified by the Department of Finance. More information on stimulus checks and concerns can be found at this post and also at this post.

One Tinian resident stopped by to express concerns with federal offices that deal with social security benefits related to disabilities. She stated that employees needed more training and continued training and were not professional. Several guest workers also expressed concern with social security deductions. They have had social security benefits taken from their paycheck for years, and would like to be refunded the money that they have put into the system since they do not qualify for benefits as non-resident workers. (See this post for more information on social security tax for non-resident guest workers.) Workers with questions or concerns regarding social security can contact the Saipan Social Security Office at (670) 234-6203. (Toll Free from Tinian at 433-9421 or Rota at 532-9421) Fax: 234-3022. Or visit the main Social Security website for information.

When a CNMI permanent resident expressed that he has worked and lived in the CNMI for 34 years he received cheers and applause from the crowd. He said he is one of two residents of Tinian with that status which allows them to live and work in the CNMI, but provides no political rights such as the rights to vote in elections and no pathway to citizenship. He said that about 20 of the people who fall under this status are already dead. There are an estimated 200-250 people who obtained this CNMI permanent residency status before the law was repealed in the early 1980's. He showed me his Filipino passport, saying he lacks the same privileges as a true CNMI resident. He said he was frustrated that he cannot travel to Guam without getting a visa and although he has been a member of the community for over three decades he still cannot vote. He would like to be a US citizen. This is another issue that must be addressed by the federal officials when they draft policy and regulations.

Alien spouses of FAS citizens who live and work in the CNMI are also concerned about their status. There will be a meeting with the FAS citizens and their alien spouses next week. It is tentatively set for Tuesday, August 5th at 9:00am at Kilili Beach.

As expected, many of the guest workers asked questions about green cards or status. Parents of US citizen children are especially concerned. There is no provision in PL 110-229 to award green cards to non-resident workers and the "grandfathering provision" that allowed for FAS-type status for the non-resident workers was removed from the legislation last year. The federal officials who are drafting the provisions and regulations will need to address this issue. I encourage the guest workers to make their voices heard regarding status!

Before the meeting we attended mass and I was able to speak briefly to Father Ayuyu. After the meeting, we had lunch with friends, toured the island, and Nani and her new friend, Jennifer had a chance to swim at Taga Beach. We ran into Kilili in the restaurant and I was able to briefly discuss some issues with him also.

Tinian is a relaxed and beautiful island with a dedicated guest worker community that generally spoke kindly of their employers. Thank you to Monwar for accompanying Nani and me on our visit, and to Ellen, Ataur, and the Filipino, Bangladesh and Nepalese communities for your generous hospiltality.