CNMI's passport seizure policy not like U.S. policy

August 4, 2009

CNMI Department of Labor's Deputy Secretary Cinta Kaipat claims that the CNMI's policy to seize incoming alien workers' passports until they attend the DOL-mandated orientation session is also a policy applied by the United States when admitting foreign workers.

The Marianas Variety reported:
Foreign workers who just arrived on Saipan said the Division of Immigration asked them to surrender their passports upon their arrival at the Francisco C. Ada International Airport and only got them back after they underwent the mandatory orientation seminar at the Department of Labor.

But Labor Deputy Secretary Cinta Kaipat said there is nothing new to this policy.

“Workers must complete certain processing, including orientation, in order to enter the Commonwealth. The Immigration Division holds passports until all processing is completed,” she said.

She said even the U.S. applies the same policy when admitting foreign workers.

She said every guest worker arriving in the Commonwealth must attend the orientation. If they fail, they could be immediately repatriated.

The labor official said all guest workers should be aware about the local labor policies, particularly the mandatory, orientation seminar.

The local labor laws were modified on Jan. 1, 2008...
She said each new guest worker received basic information on their rights and responsibilities under Commonwealth and U.S. law.

The employment of each arriving guest worker is checked to ensure that an actual job is available and the employer is financially capable of paying the required wages, she said.

“All these new steps, put into place by Public Law 15-108, have substantially reduced the number of labor disputes and complaints involving recently-arriving workers. The program is working as the Legislature intended,” Kaipat said.

But Kaipat said the numbers of arrivals of guest workers have declined this year compared to the previous years.

She cited the contributing factors: the Labor Department vigorously enforces the U.S. citizen workforce participation requirement and regulation changes that have greatly narrowed the available exemptions; the Governor barred entry of unskilled workers; and the Labor Department enforces a secondary preference for on-island workers as it is much more efficient for the Commonwealth government when employers use on-island workers rather than bringing in new workers.
I researched and found nothing that confirmed that U.S. Immigration or Department of Homeland Security officials took the passports of entering foreign workers. I did locate a source that stated, "The immigrant shall surrender his immigration visa to the immigration officer at the port of inspection, who shall at the time of inspection indorse on the immigration visa the date, the port of entry, and the name of the vessel, if any, on which the immigrant arrived. The immigration visa shall be transmitted forthwith by the immigration officer in charge at the port of inspection to the Department of Labor under regulations prescribed by the Secretary of Labor." That's an immigration visa, not a passport.

From the Department of State website concerning entry of foreign workers to the U.S.:
Entering the U.S. - Port of Entry

A visa allows a foreign citizen coming from abroad, to travel to the United States port-of entry and request permission to enter the United States. Applicants should be aware that a visa does not guarantee entry into the United States. The Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials have authority to permit or deny admission to the United States. If you are allowed to enter the U.S., the CBP official will determine the length of your visit on the Arrival-Departure Record (Form I-94). Since Form I-94 documents your authorized stay in the United States, it is very important to keep in your passport.
Finally, a legal counsel at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, U.S. Department of Homeland Security responded to my inquiry with this reply:
The passport is normally in the possession of the CBP officer during the immediate inspection process at the port of entry only. On a case by case basis, if the subject's inspection is deferred, the passport may be included in the case file until a determination of admissibility is made. A document may be seized (and properly documented as such) in cases of fraud, or if the document is altered. DHS does not have a practice similar to that described in the article of routinely holding passports after inspection of arriving aliens pending orientation session or other post-admission condition.
Once again Deputy Secretary Kaipat makes a claim that is not factual. No, the U.S. does not apply the same policy when admitting foreign workers.

Why does the CNMI DOL And Division of Immigration need to take the alien workers' passports? The Marianas Variety reported today that Melvin Grey Director of the Division of Immigration condones taking the passports of the alien workers:
The Division of Immigration yesterday said the policy requiring guest workers to turn over their passports to authorities when entering the islands for the first time helps the government identify unqualified migrants.

Immigration Director Melvin Grey said the policy helps the government efficiently identify whether or not the new migrant workers have legitimate jobs on the islands.

Those who don’t are sent back home to their home countries.

“We going to put on the next plane back or they can request for deportation if they want,” he said. But he added the “reclusion” process is the best way to tell if a migrant worker is cheating on his or her job qualifications.
Grey said the policy has been going on for awhile and “the new hired guest workers are pretty much very cooperative but we got a few who are not qualified.”

In that policy, guest workers who just arrived were asked to deposit their passports to the immigration officer before leaving the Francisco C. Ada International Airport and they are given receipt and schedule of orientation at the Labor Office.

“We just want to make sure they are properly qualified,” he said.

Grey said the immigration office returns the passport to the owner upon completion of the orientation process.

However, during the evaluation and interview the Labor Department will determine whether or not the guest worker is really qualified on the preferred job, Grey said.

He said the policy was enforced to avoid any fraud and to ensure the employer gets the right worker.
The taking of passports raises a variety of questions. Does the CNMI Immigration Division also take the passports of foreign business investors or foreign travelers who may be entering the CNMI for illegal purposes? They claim to keep the passports until the mandated employee orientation is completed. How many employee orientations are held each week, month, or quarter? How long does the Division keep the passports? Where are they held and who has access to them? How many people were refused entry because of this inspection? How does taking a passport help in identifying unqualified migrants, as Grey stated?

The most disturbing revelation is the fact that the CNMI DOL does not appear to be properly screening potential employees before issuing entry permits. Grey claimed that the seizure of the passports allows the government to "efficiently identify whether or not the new migrant workers have legitimate jobs on the islands." Huh, after they arrive? Isn't the proper time to determine if a foreign worker is qualified for a position or meets the required employment and legal requirements before they enter the CNMI, not once they have arrived in the CNMI?

Grey said, "We got a few that are not qualified." In what way? How does DOL and the Division of Immigration determine whether or not the worker is qualified? Doesn't the CNMI Department of Labor issue the permits? Are they issuing permits to unqualified workers? What are the requirements to obtain a permit?

I am not getting the connection between seizing passports and requiring foreign workers to attend an orientation session.

It should be noted that DOL failed to reveal the number of incoming foreign workers in their most recent interim labor reports as well as the 2008 Annual Labor Report. I specifically asked DOL for the number of incoming foreign contract workers (along with other questions) and I am still waiting for a response.

The orientation sessions should be helpful to the incoming workers. Kaipat stated that some employers also attended a few orientations. It might be a good idea to mandate that the employers of foreign workers must also attend orientation sessions. Understanding labor law and their responsibilities could prevent some abuses and violations.

Again, while the orientation sessions are most likely useful to the incoming foreign workers I do not see why they should be required to surrender passports until they attend the sessions.

©2009 W. L. Doromal


Self-Government Advocate said...

You should have checked with CBP counsel rather than USCIS counsel, since such matters are under CBP authority.

The reference to federal practice may have been to the legal reason for temporary passport sequestration rather than its relative frequency, or the former INS practice, since there is no current DHS guest worker program.

The workers are not “admitted” to the CNMI but rather “paroled” in pending compliance with all admission requirements. Failure to comply results in denial of admission and return to their home countries on an expedited basis, rather than having to be “deported” in court, which would be the case if they had been formally admitted.

As noted, the orientations are for their own protection -- there is no similar program for investors.

Detecting fraud (unqualified applicants or human trafficking victims) is a further benefit of this salutary policy. No, the CNMI does not have consulates or embassies abroad, so this is the first chance to interview applicants for admission. If fraud is detected in the application, including false statements about qualifications, the CNMI should be congratulated for denying entry to those who would seek to enter on false pretenses.

This practice protects workers from labor abuse in two ways -- informing them of their rights at orientations, and as an additional check to stop trafficking. It also protects the CNMI against those few scammers who would lie to sneak into the Commonwealth.

Well done CNMI!

Anonymous said...

There you go again Wendy! Trying your very best to make Cinta Kaipat the bad person. Please Wendy, admit that many of your Kamabayan are coming to Saipan illegally! Why are so much in denial about this issue? Cinta Kaipat is just trying her very best to protect our islands with the undesirables! What is so wrong with that?

Wendy said...

Anonymous 7:21

I stated that orientation is a good practice -taking passports is not a good practice and it is unnecessary. Taking their passport stops human trafficking? Okay -how? You need to reread the post. I have no problem with orientation -I encourage it for employers too. Why is it necessary to seize passports?

Anonymous 7:45

How many workers are going to the CNMI illegally? Numbers and facts please. Taking their passport will prove they are illegals. Really? How many foreign investors are engaging in illegal activities? How many tourists? Protecting the island with undesirables? Really?

Anonymous said...

Wendy made a few good points:
1. Cinta manipulated the truth once more.
2. What IS the purpose of taking passports?
3. How many "unqualified" workers were sent home?

Yes, this practice raises questions.

I have some questions. What happens at orientation that reveals whether a worker is illegal or unqualified? How do they detect fraud? Are they interrogated? Tested?

Anonymous said...

Noni 7:45

The criminals will be sentenced to jail today and they are not foreign workers.

Anonymous said...

Self-Government Advocate:

You spin as well as Cinta. The argument is not about the value of an orientation. The argument is about the requirement that the OCWs must surrender their passports at the airport.

Captain said...

This is not much unlike in the past with Garment factories and employers taking the workers passports (and retaining employment contracts) upon arrival to restrict their movement and keep them "under control"
As said, these workers were issues an ATB from the NMI or they would not be able to board the plane in their homeland, so realistically they were cleared to take a job position in the NMI.

So what Cinta is saying is that they (DOL) are not doing any "pre-employment check". DOL allowing all to enter the NMI and then screening them here.

As far as qualified, only the employer will be able to find out if the worker that was hired is qualified for the job they were hired for.
Does DOL take the employment contracts also?

It would be best for Cinta to not issue any statements or open her mouth prior to the election, if she has any chance to get relected. (highly unlikely)

Anonymous said...

the moment the employers submitted the required documents at DOLI for the worker/s they want to hire, it is the duty of DOLI to screen all submitted documents to find out if: the employers are capable of hiring and if all the documents are authenticated.
it is the employers' discretion whom they think would fit/qualify for the position/job in their organization.
if the DOLI issued entry/work permits to such workers, isn't it enough proof that DOLI have done the screening already? unless, the airport authorities don't believe also on how the DOLI personnel do their jobs, then they should continue doing so...
in doing screening by airport authorites to ensure that the new workers are qualified for the job and to ensure the employer/s legality, is like----issuing a driver's license first, before having that person to undergo an actual driving test...!
or it's like, a woman has to give birth first for her to know that she is pregnant!
-malou berueco-