Overstayers - Can they really leave?

November 30, 2008

I read with interest an article by Ferdie de la Torre in today's Saipan Tribune stating that there are 624 alien overstaying in the CNMI. These include mostly Chinese and Filipino foreign contract workers who "have overstayed the permission granted them upon their entry to the CNMI for employment purposes." The article states:
Labor advised those people on the list to depart the CNMI immediately.

“Persons who depart the Commonwealth voluntarily are eligible to return; those who are deported are not eligible to return,” Labor said.

Labor pointed out that permissions granted upon entry may have been extended or the entry status may have been changed under a number of different provisions of Commonwealth law, “but all extensions and changes must be documented and the applicable fees paid.”

Workers whose names are on the overstayers list but have a valid immigration status that allows them to be in the CNMI are urged to report to the Labor Director's executive secretary, Evelyn Sablan, before Dec. 29, 2008, to correct the records.
There are some questions that need to be addressed. Why are these people here? Are they trying to collect unpaid wages owed to them? Do they have U.S. citizen children here who they are hoping can continue their education? Are they waiting to see if the federal immigration system will grandfather them in to remain? Or perhaps their employers did not provide the ticket home that they are contractually obligated to provide?

Case in point. For two months a guest worker has sought help from DOL in getting a ticket to leave the CNMI. His mother is critically ill and he wants to return to the Philippines. He is currently unemployed. He has a labor case filed with the U.S. Department of Labor, but has no means of support and has been relying on friends for food and shelter. I talked to him by phone six or seven times in the last two months and communicate with him by email several times a week.

He initially asked at DOL if there was a repatriation fund since he had no money for a ticket and his employer did not give him one. He was told it was "out of funds." Actually, I learned there is no repatriation fund at the Department of Labor. There is a Deportation Fund at the Division of Immigration, but I have been informed it is primarily a deportation fund. Guest workers who cannot get a return ticket from their employer are expected to file a small claims case or try to get the ticket from the bonding company.

The guest worker went to DOL several more times for help in getting a ticket and wrote a letter to Director Barry Hirshbein which remains unanswered. (Join the club!) A DOL employee unsuccessfully reached out to the employer in an attempt to get him to provide a ticket. Finally, a few days ago I sent an email to Secretary Deputy Cinta Kaipat seeking help for this worker. I would like to thank her for responding, answering my questions, and for assisting this guest worker with getting a ticket from his last employer of record.

I spoke to this guest worker yesterday. His employer told him he would give him a ticket if he dropped all labor claims against him. I believe this is coercion and is illegal. He should be given a ticket. Period. This employer recently ran for public office and should be ashamed of himself.

I would like to point out that the Deputy Secretary said that if an employer does not provide a return ticket, a waiver may be granted from the Deportation Fund:
If the employer cannot or will not pay, the Director of Labor bars the employer from hiring foreign workers in the future and transfers all the employer's current foreign workers. That sanction is usually enough to get a solvent employer to pay. If the employer is insolvent, the Department seeks the repatriation ticket from the bonding company. If the bonding company is in business but refuses to pay, then the Department will recommend that the Commerce Department cancel their license. The Department of Labor does not regulate bonding companies. If the bonding company no longer exists, then the Department of Labor would try to assist the worker to get a ticket through a waiver from the Deportation Fund. Because the Deportation Fund is not for repatriations, those waivers are a matter of discretion with the Immigration Division. However, we work closely with them to try to meet the workers' needs.
Alien workers who want to exit the CNMI should not have to jump through hoops. Perhaps the DOL could set a time limit on the length of time an employer has to come up with a ticket. A week seems like a logical amount of time since the alien worker has no job, therefore no money to pay for food or housing. If the employer does not provide the ticket within a week then a ticket should be provided through the Deportation Fund. The Division of Immigration could purchase the ticket and then send a bill to the employer to repay the fund. The employer would be barred from hiring future alien workers unless the bill is paid. The current system does not appear to work. No one should have to wait for months to be repatriated.


Anonymous said...

There are both cases regarding guest workers who either have not been paid or have been but want to remain in the CNMI beyond their contracts. hence, contract workers. Remember that in most countries, a foreign national who overstays their visa is subject to harsh laws, the PI included. The US Federal govt will phase out contract wokers in a few years, it's just way too much trouble and a burden to the feds. Don't get emotional or rant about their 'rights'. Just because you give birth to a US citizen does not mean that you now deserve the right to harness our welfare system, education system, medical system etc. On education. The PI has a very good educational system, go there and continue. Why must we feel obligated to them? Why?

wendy said...


The U.S. federal government will phase out guest workers by providing a pathway to citizenship so there is a large enough workforce without needing to continually maintain a huge guest worker program.

Why should you feel obligated? Get real. The guest workers are not disposable or replaceable commodities. They are people. Every just guest worker program provides a pathway to citizenship. The U.S. citizen children of guest workers should not be treated as 2nd class U.S. citizens because their parents are not citizens. The chances of their parents getting a job in their homelands is pretty close to nil. Their children will be faced with extreme hardship and poverty if they return. That is why so many parents try to eke out an existence in the CNMI -for the sake of their children.

ron said...

Get a clue noni.

The US will never deport a US citizen child or their parents from the NMI. Offering an improved or legal working status is the only win-win answer.

"The PI has a very good educational system"

Are you trying to sell this logic to mainland Americans that have never been to PI? If you think this is true, try sending your kids to Malabon or Bulacan. I would agree the ISM is a fine school but 99.9999 percent of the people can't afford to send their children there.

cactus said...

You're right, the current system for repatriation takes far too long and sets up too many hoops for the worker to jump through. In fact, even your proposed system is likely to be pretty slow in practice. How about requiring the employer to post the money for the return ticket directly with Labor at the time the worker is hired, to be used for repatriation when the worker leaves? If and when the worker transfers to another employer, the originally posted money would be returned to the original employer, and the new employer would post a new amount in its place.

"Every just guest worker program provides a pathway to citizenship."

That works fine in a big place like the US. However, applying that theory in a place with a small population base results in the problem that any substantial number of guest workers will quickly come to politically dominate the original population, leaving that population with the choice of either accepting such domination, or limiting itself to the economic level that can be sustained with the original small population base.

That is the problem that has resulted in the CNMI becoming the way that it is, but it is something you do not ever seem to have given much attention to.

Do you have any proposed solution to that problem, or do you not regard it as a problem?

Anonymous said...

The PI needs to clean up it's own mess, and take care of it's own people, not US taxpayers.

"The U.S. federal government will phase out guest workers by providing a pathway to citizenship so there is a large enough workforce without needing to continually maintain a huge guest worker program."

Wendy, where do you get these ideas from? You are a wishful thinker who was stunned when the Federalization became a reality. I do not care at all what happens to the Filipinos on Saipan or in Manila. I care about the US Citizens who are already living in the US, and fixing our economy. Why should the CNMI be a refugee boat? Once again, the PI needs to take care of it's own problems, Filipinos included.

wendy said...

Hi Cactus

I think your idea of a return ticket is excellent. What would happen if the prices increase though? Would that be a problem?

I totally understand your point about some in the CNMI being concerned that if guest workers were given a pathway to citizenship, the indigenous population may lose their political power. Of course, it was the CNMI who brought in all of the workers to build their economy. I still think if a person devotes 5, 10, 15, 25 or more years of their life working and paying taxes etc. in a country then they should have a pathway to have political and social rights in that country. Why should it matter if a person is from the CNMI or is a former guest worker for them to have political rights? I see the contributions of residents and non-residents to the community as valuable, not for who the people are or their origin, but for what they contribute.

The original legislation had the grandfathering provision that would have allowed long-term guest workers to have an FAS-type status where they could live and work in the CNMI, but not vote. The CNMI government didn't even accept that and lobbied successfully to have it removed.

wendy said...

Anonymous below Cactus

I was not stunned when federalization became a reality, I predicted it.

I do not know what you are talking about when you say, The PI needs to clean up it's own mess, and take care of it's own people, not US taxpayers.

The CNMI is not a refuge boat.

Anonymous said...

I do not know what you are talking about when you say, The PI needs to clean up it's own mess, and take care of it's own people, not US taxpayers.

The Philippines needs to take charge of it's own country. The CNMI has become a refugee camp of sorts for Filipinos, Chinese, Bangladeshis and many more. I can't stand the fact that US taxpayers may have to foot the bill. I predict that the Obama administration will NOT harbor these people anymore and let them finally go home. I am not talking about legal immigrants or US citizens. I am talking about the thousands of illegals on Saipan.

Do you really want to make a difference in the lives of your beloved Filipinos? Go to Manila and duplicate exactly what you do here. Seriously, it may make some kind difference.

wendy said...


The CNMI is not a refugee camp. The guest workers were recruited to work in the CNMI and they went there legally. However, you are right, the federal system will not allow overstayers.

You are also correct in saying that I have a love for Filipino people. I am not a citizen of the Philippines and have no intention of interfering with their government. I have no understanding of what you are proposing I should do there.

Anonymous said...

Why is it that US Citizens don't flock to the PI, get contracts and have babies? Same goes with Chinese and Bangladeshis. The cycle needs to stop somewhere. Saipan is a safe haven for these people to tax and take advantage of the 'system'. The PI needs to mature and take care of it's own and stop being a bunch of children to the United States. I do not feel sorry for them, I feel sorry for MY children and worry about THEIR future.

cactus said...

I basically agree with you that there should be a pathway to political rights for foreign nationals, not just in the CNMI but anywhere. What that pathway should entail, however, is a question for which different answers may be appropriate in different places, depending on local conditions.

It is therefore something that needs to be looked at closely and specifically, and cannot be dealt with with sweeping generalities. I mean, you throw around the numbers "5, 10, 15, 25" years pretty loosely, but there really is a significant difference between living someplace for 5 years and living there for 25 years, don't you think? Which of those, if either, should be made a condition of political rights? Should there perhaps be a gradual accretion of rights over time (for example, 5 years to attain permanent residency, 10 years to vote, 25 years to own land)? Should there be other conditions in addition to just length of residency? If so, what?

Ultimately, I believe it is up to the local people to answer these kinds of questions. There was a movement afoot in that direction earlier this year, but it ran out of steam when the federalization act passed.

wendy said...

Hi Cactus

What I feel is fair for guest workers is this:

After 5 years a worker is long-term and has the option to get a green card. That is a reasonable length of time to work until status is offered. In other places it is as low as three years. Five years to get a green card and then after the eligible period, if the person applies for citizenship, he/she would then be eligible to vote as a U.S. citizen. Same as in the U.S.

The land issue is a whole other deal. Over the last three visits to the CNMI I talked to several locals who told me that they want Article 12 dissolved. They want the right to be able to sell their land to anyone. They said the way the system is now only the rich locals can buy land. I understand what they are saying. The residents of the CNMI should decide that issue, not the federal government.

The CNMI residents should not decide status - the CNMI is a U.S. territory and status falls under federal law. I believe there were 2 movements earlier this year. One by Siemer and Kara and one by Tina Sablan. Siemer and Kara immediately ceased their efforts when PL 110-229 was signed. Tina introduced legislation that was killed in committee.

Didn't the locals already decide that they wanted the foreign work force? Didn't they decide when they brought in tens of thousands of foreign workers that they wanted them and needed them in the CNMI to boost their economy? Isn't the federal lawsuit saying that they fear the loss of the workers and their exit would adversely affect the economy? If so, then the CNMI should support giving status to them and the needed workforce will be there. Unfortunately, the CNMI wants to have its cake and eat it too . They like having foreign workers as long as they can be kept as disposable and replaceable commodities and not given political and social rights. It's rather an evil little system. Shame, shame on the U.S for perpetuating it all these years and for allowing a system of indentured servitude that is one rung below slavery.

wendy said...

Anonymous above Cactus

I feel sorry for YOU.

Anonymous said...

Good points, Cactus and Wendy. The US Virgin Islands had the same issue some years back, with too few local workers, and a large number of disenfranchised foreign workers who were necessary to the economy. The big difference was the workers all had employment visas issued under the INA. Congress solved the USVI labor problem by giving all workers with H visas the right to apply for Lawful Permanent Residence in 1981. It pretty much solved the problem with the labor supply.

wendy said...


Is lawful permanent residence like FAS-status. No political rights such as voting, no social rights to federal programs like medicaid and food stamps?

Anonymous said...


Here is what will happen to the CNMI.

1) Foreign workers will be phased out in a few years.

2) The CNMI economy , what's left of it will go down the tubes.

3) The US will not put non res workers on the "path to citizenship", this is wishful thinking brought about by far left wing liberals who live spoon to mouth.

4) Tourism will plummet.

There you have it.

wendy said...


1. Foreign workers will be phased out when it is economically possible to do so. PL 110-229 gives the option of renewing the CNMI-only guest worker program. As I said before it makes sense to give permanent status to long term workers so a stable workforce is established and a guest worker program can be phased out.

2. The CNMI economy is down the tubes. Federalization is not the cause.

3. Not wishful thinking. It will happen.

4. Tourism will plummet because the world economy is crashing and few can afford to travel.

There you have it!

cactus said...

"Same as in the U.S."

Foreign workers are about 5% of the population in the US, and about 50% in the CNMI. Applying the same system in the two places will therefore yield very different results. Do you believe that one size really fits all to that extent?

"The residents of the CNMI should decide" about land ownership, but "the CNMI residents should not decide status."

What's the difference? Why do you consider it valid for local residents to decide if, when, and how far to expand land rights, but not to do the same with respect to residency or voting rights? Are these not actually very similar issues, implicating similar concerns?

wendy said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
wendy said...

The residents and CNMI government decided to become a minority in their land. They decided when they brought in the tens of thousands of foreign workers. The CNMI was warned as far back as the Reagan Administration of the consequences, but went full speed ahead. People are not commodities and they should not be regarded as disposable or replaceable.

The federal lawsuit is all about maintaining a work force. The way to do that is to give permanent status to those long term (5 years or more) workers who live and work in the CNMI.

By saying the same as in US, I mean that federal immigration laws should be applied in the same manner everywhere that is US soil.

I do not believe that the issue of land rights is a federal issue.

Anonymous said...

"People are not commodities and they should not be regarded as disposable or replaceable.

You are right. This should be true to the Philippines, China, India, Bangladesh etc. Sending non res workers back home to the PI or China creates a moral problem for left wing liberals. Let's see, they arrive on Saipan, work, some labor abuses but not nearly as bad as back home then they want citizenship. Do we give it to them, or send them back home to far worse conditions. It's a paradox isn't it? You should lobby Saudi Arabia. Hey go to Pakistan and stand in the street with marchers.

wendy said...


Liberals? Are you sure? Do you have a moral compass? You don't have a clue...