Two year "umbrella permits": continuing the system of indentured servitude


















October 14, 2009

Instead of endorsing U.S. status for the long-term workers, the CNMI government led by the DOL, apparently with the blessing of the Office of Attorney General, will be offering two-year permits to all guest workers with legal status so that the CNMI government may maintain the maximum possible number of indentured servants allowed for the maximum number of years allowed under PL 110-229. The proposal was announced today by the Saipan Tribune. The permits would be issued under an administrative order meaning that no input or action by the legislature would be required.

There is a question as to whether it is even legal for the CNMI DOL to issue or extend permits or whether such authority would fall under the Division of Immigration, which is under the Office of the Attorney General. I am assuming this would be ironed out.

Who would the proposal cover? According to the proposal, (which may or may not have been modified) it would cover all current permit holders and persons whose applications are currently in process. This includes those in the deficiency and denial categories, persons whose transfers are currently in process, and persons who currently have extensions of time to transfer. The initial proposal was not clear on whether or not those with labor cases would be eligible to apply, but perhaps this has been revised.

The Tribune reported that the "umbrella permit" would cover people with labor cases.

The intent was stated in the article:
“The idea is to liberalize the labor force. The idea is to give everybody comfort and security. They're not going to be deported,” the government lawyer said.

They explained that employers and workers are not going to pay for the “umbrella permits” as they are free.
Comfort and security would be a green card and a secure job. Guest workers have reported for months that even with TWAs (temporary work authorizations), there just are very few job openings. Under the proposal all workers, especially those without employers, would be even more vulnerable. How many will agree to work for under minimum wage or without benefits just to survive because there are few employers who are hiring? How many sponsorship schemes will arise? How is continuing the guest workers' status as indentured servants providing true security?

Perhaps the attorney speaking to the Tribune meant security for those business owners who want to employ workers. The proposal would give the business owners a larger labor pool since the guest workers would not be confined to a category under the plan and would be allowed to seek employment on any of the three islands.

For the short term it should mean that more guest workers with TWAs could possibly find positions if they can switch categories and islands as the proposal states. Yet, the proposal does not suggest that the CNMI government will stop bringing in new workers when so many are on the ground in the CNMI without jobs and available for work.

In the long term, without U.S. status the foreign contract workers still have no secure future in the CNMI. Text from the proposed agreement suggests that promise of a secure two year permit does not offer much true security since the permit can be revoked during that two-year period:
Extension of employment: This permit may be revoked at the termination of an employment contract unless, on or before the expiration of an approved employment contract (the next filing date shown above), the employer elects to extend the employment of the holder of this permit. The employer must submit the proposed extension contract and pay the applicable fee.

Change of employment: This permit may be revoked under circumstances when the holder changes employment unless the holder registers with the Division of Employment Services and files an Employer Intent Form no later than thirty days after termination of an existing employment contract. Upon the filing of an Employer Intent Form, Employment Services will follow its usual processes under Department of Labor regulations.

Seeking employment: This permit may be revoked under circumstances when the holder is not employed and is seeking employment unless the holder makes diligent efforts to locate full time employment suitable to the holder’s skills and abilities and finds an employer within a reasonable time. While seeking employment, the holder of this permit is responsible for all medical and repatriation expenses for the holder and any sponsored alien immediate relatives and for the full support of any minor children, and the holder will maintain sufficient resources or provide a sufficient bond or undertaking by a financially responsible third party to meet these obligations. CNMI law provides no right to an extension of time to seek employment; each request is considered by a hearing officer on the merits of the written request as to whether employment is likely to be obtained within a reasonable time and any risk to the Commonwealth has been met.
The proposal also contains a questionable agreement:
Under the existing transfer system, we ask those who request extensions of time to transfer to sign an agreement to meet all their own medical expenses and repatriation expenses. We would use that approach here as well, and ask the permit holder to sign the standard agreement set out on the face of the permit.
This is against the current labor law which states that the last employer of record is responsible for repatriation costs. Why should a guest worker agree to that? How can an unemployed guest worker be expected to pay his/her own repatriation fees? The employers signed contracts agreeing to repatriate their foreign workers, so why let them off the hook? Does the CNMI government assume that the U.S. government would pick up the tab if a guest worker must leave?

How can people earning minimum wage possibly afford to pay for their own health care expenses? While U.S. citizens who are unemployed or minimum wage earners may qualify for Medicaid and food stamps, as nonresidents, guest workers do not qualify for these programs. The vast majority of the workers, if not all of them, have no health insurance. What happens when they go to the CHC and need treatment, but cannot pay for it? Do they die or are they treated? Do taxpayers end up with the bill? If a guest worker should die who is responsible for sending their body back home? Where is the plan for these situations that surely will occur among 13,000 foreign uninsured workers earning minimum wage?

What attorney said this?
"With the repatriation of over 10,000 garment workers due to closure of the factories since 2006, the lawyer said, the government believes that the alien workers who are currently in the CNMI are the ones needed by the businesses and other employers to support the economy."
If the CNMI government truly believes that these people are needed by “businesses and other employers to support the economy” then the CNMI government should petition the U.S. government to give them green cards!

Amazingly, despite the previous reports that the DOL computer system could not determine the statistical data required to submit to the U.S. DOI for recommendations of status for foreign contract workers, the claim is now made that the umbrella permits would be issued based on data from the computer system. From the proposal:
Administrative issue of permits: The permits would be issued by administrative action. The Department of Labor would put together the appropriate data set from our computer files, set up the permit form, and then print the permits automatically from the data set. The DoL signature would be digital. No application would be required for this permit because the Department already has all the necessary information about each of the persons who would be covered by this permit. No fee would be charged.
How many of the 13,000 foreigners to be given two year permits are now employed? How many will be relying on the generosity of friends and charitable contributions to survive while they seek employment in an economy that has few jobs? What impact will this have on the quality of life for the members of the foreign contract worker community that make up the lowest and poorest tier of the two-tiered system?

Worker reported that they have been invited to the "unveiling" of the program at DOL at 3:00. Other report that Deanne Siemer invited them to appear at the Philippine Consulate's Office at 5:30.

Already I have received a call from a guest worker who stated that he had been told that after the two years the guest workers will qualify for U.S. status. Not true. Only Congress can decide U.S. status. The CNMI government could at any time before May 10, 2010 write a report recommending that the long-term guest workers receive U.S. status. Judging by the actions of the CNMI government, including the anti-federalization lawsuit it is clear that they want to maintain the two-tiered dysfunctional system that keeps the guest workers disenfranchised.

On a positive note, the proposal frees those seeking jobs from job category restraints and allows them to seek employment on any of the three islands. However, ultimately it does little else to offer job security and could lead to more unscrupulous employers and scammers preying on workers desperate to keep their permits.

35 comments:

Anonymous said...

A Bill that never was allowed onto the floor which was a lot more thought out and structured and a better alternative than this hokie pokie Deane Siemer (retain control over the indentured servants, muddy the labor and immigration split, try and get concrete numbers) umbrella permit was Rep Sablan's HB 16-86 The Resident Foreign National Status Act of 2008

see it here:

http://www.tinasablan.com/forum/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/hb16-86.pdf

------------------

Here is the pathetic Committee Report filed by Rep Santos...

http://www.tinasablan.com/forum/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/hb16-86.pdf

She said on the floor that Labor and Immigration had advised her that the issue of granting a Resident Foreign National Status at the CNMI level was mute. Now the labor does this umbrella permit?? What is up their greasy sleeve?

Here is Dissenting Memo that finds major fault with Santos' Committee Report and asked to put the Bill to a vote:

http://www.tinasablan.com/forum/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/SCR-16-36.Dissenting-Memo.pdf

----------------

Here is a letter to labor from Rep Salas asking for some answers:

http://www.tinasablan.com/forum/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/letter-to-labor.pdf


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What is all this? You tell me? Why would Deanne Siemer and CNMI Labor and the JGO committee and CNMI Immigration conspire to keep the Resident Foreign National Bill from every seeing the light of day? Why would they then wait 7 months from that bill being introduced until just a month before the election to produce this half-assed Umbrella Permit Scheme?

What is going on?

If Deanne wants whats best for the CNMI and so does Labor and so does Immigration than why not get Rep Santos to release HB 16-86 from the JGO committee and act on it?

What is going on?

malou berueco said...

ms. tina sablan's proposal was entirely different from this one...tina's own was more favorable for long term guest workers...because tina's bill allow the workers to work....
this umbrella permit according to d.siemer (i attended the forum at 5:30 pm)doesn't authorize GWs to work...it would only authorized GWs who doesn't have employment, transfer employment legally...
that was why, i asked d.siemer, if this is 'NOT" a working pemit and just a permit to stay legally "for a VERY limited time" why is this permit being handled by DOL and not Div.of Immigration...
personally, i dont see any changes/better this umbrella permit for GWs becasuse this one has to abide/comply to any exiting law/regualtions the DOL has...
this is actually not a 2 years permit as i have learned from the forum...because of the "conditions" stated under the "agreement"....
still, we the GWs have questions...what's the hidden agenda???
DOL is just trying to make another "word/term" for a permit that will cover all GWs regardless of whether a GWs have valid work permit, under process, with pending labor case etc., etc. to categorize existingg foreign workers in CNMI under one permit----the "UMBRELLA"....ella...ella...under their umbrella...ella...ella...
we at the forum at 5:30 was actually not given the copy of agreement or proposals for these 2 yrs. permit. we just saw a copy after the forum...that's why we were not able to raise important questions...

malou berueco said...

the question of who will shoulder the repatriation under this permit was raised by one of the GWs and the PANELISTS answer was enirely different from what is posted here...she/he said, it would be covered by your last employer...hmmmm????

Anonymous said...

"Under the existing transfer system, we ask those who request extensions of time to transfer to sign an agreement to meet all their own medical expenses and repatriation expenses. We would use that approach here as well, and ask the permit holder to sign the standard agreement set out on the face of the permit."

You mean these adults must act like adults? Take care of themselves? Many millions of Americans are without Health Care Insurance. Grow up.

Wendy said...

1:29 The employers agreed under contract to pay for the workers' health care and repatriation. They should be held to this. People who make the wages that the contract workers make could never afford health insurance. This two year permit scam benefits the CMNI government and businesses owners. The workers are no better off. Probably much worse.

Anonymous said...

Tens of millions of Americans cannot afford health care either. Everyone goes to the ER anyway where for the most part health care is free.

Anonymous said...

This permit is illegal under CNMI law, and it contravenes PL 110-229.

It is illegal under CNMI law because CNMI statutes require the employer to provide medical care, among other things, and prohibit the transfer of employees from one job to another without the approval of a hearing officer, and then only under certain limited circumstances. Administrative actions, such as the passage of regulations or "agreements" cannot amend statutes. Statutes trump regulations, and must be repealed or amended by the legislature, not the DOL.

It contravenes PL 110-229 because the federal law only recognizes the legal employment status of workers here on the Transition Period Effective Date (TPED) until the end of the status or until 2 years into the transition period, whichever comes first. Federal law trumps local law, and DHS does not have to recognize these new permits.

Another problem with the permits is that they do not confer any immigration status or employment authorization until after the TPED. They are, in effect, contingent upon some affirmative action by the employer and employee that occurs after the TPED. If it was legal to issue contingent permits, and if DHS recognized them as legally sufficient, then the CNMI could completely frustrate PL 110-229 by issuing contingent permits for 10 or 20 years.

The upshot of this new proposal is that it will continue to freeze local people out of private sector jobs for another generation. The folks who should be up in arms about this proposal are the Chamorro, Carolinian and other U.S. citizen workers who are struggling to make ends meet and unable to find jobs because employers would rather hire compliant alien workers who are willing to work for minimum wage or sub-minimum wage.

Anonymous said...

This must be the administration's idea of self-government. The CNMI governs and the federal government pays for it.

Anonymous said...

This is weird... they are given permission to remain in the CNMI for two years, but cannot work?

malou beruecp said...

actually it is called 2 yrs.permit but your length of stay they say will still be based on a "reasonable time"....reasonable time? why not standard time or period??? and when is reasonable becomes reasonable? a reasonable time for each person may varies....a reasonable time for me i know is not a reasonable time for d.siemer or mr.barry or c.kaipat, or even to wendy....

Anonymous said...

The CNMI government should respect the foreign nationals as WORKERS not as SLAVES.Long time of indentured servitude of this workers really reflect that these people do not respect human dignity.
We hope and pray the American government will recognize these taxpayers who helped this island developed .Justice and equality for all must prevail.
May justice reign in the CNMI!

Anonymous said...

Um, the umbrella actually provides protection to foreign national workers.

Nothing changes about the underlying labor permit process. What it does do is give them valid legal status -- preventing federal deportation before November 27, 2011 -- if they continue to comply with the DoL processes, appeals, etc.

Some people would complain about anything!

Anonymous said...

Noni 11:47AM

You said: "Some people would complain about anything!"

That is exactly what I said about Deanne, Cinta, Chamber, DoL, CNMI Immigration, etc when Rep Sablan introduced the Resident Foreign National Status Bill of 2008.

I also said people would complain about anything when they b*tched about the grandfathering status in the original Federalization Bill.

If DoL, CNMI Immigration, Siemer, Cinta, Gov Fitial, Howard, Gray, Gil, Chamber, HANMI are all okay with this Umbrella permit than why on earth did they lobby to remove the grandfathering status from the federal bill and why did they lobby against the CNMI Resident Foreign National Bill???

I think I know what is up. They are doing this now as a permit through labor with no application and no real legal backing via legislation because of political motives. They realize that they need to get the non-NMD votes and they also know that a lot of relatives and friends of contract workers will be VOTING on Nov 7th.

They are offering this diddy dally solution and once the vote is done on the 7th and the ballots are in they will RETRACT this and say WHOOPS it wasn't legal and we can't do this and we need an act of the Legislature to do it!

This is all a massive wool blanket being laid out by Deanne and Cinta. They are extremely transparent. They hope that Cinta and her Uncle Ben Fitial come out with this and win over votes in the 7th election. He will make this statement at the debate and at the Cream Forum. Both will!

Then on Nov 8th it will vanish as quickly as they made it appear.

Such childish political attempts are sickening.

If they want to help they would pass the Resident Foreign National Bill and they would never have lobbied to remove the Grandfathering clause in the Federalization Law!

Anonymous said...

It's spelled Grey, not Gray.

We have way too many conspiracy theorists on this island.

I don't think they're that smart to be so Machiavellian.

I would think this is just a way to keep local jurisdiction and maximize local control, preventing workers from inadvertent deportation by the U.S.

It doesn't need a legislative change because all the underlying laws remain in effect.

This is just an "unbrella" permit, sort of like an "umbrella" insurance policy.

It offers no coverage if the underlying permit (policy) is no longer valid -- unless renewal, transfer, or whatever is pending in the Department of Labor.

It is a way to keep DoL relevant. It will be interesting to see if the U.S. will acquiesce or fight the CNMI on this. I'm guessing they go along.

Anonymous said...

If it offers no coverage if the underlying permit is revoked than it really is useless. At the moment the Feds will recognize our local permits like the 240k.

And that theory was not that difficult to come up with. I have seen more complex political scams in my day.

Our politicians can run with the best of them in regards to scams and trickery! Fitial is Abramoffs GOOD FRIEND (his words not mine).

As far as the U.S. going along with it, they dont need to give a damn if what you are saying is that it is merely an umbrella permit and the underlying TRUE permit 240k is still required. They will recognize the LEGAL 240k and disregard this Umbrella permit all together or just pay no difference to it.

Anonymous said...

there's a hidden purpose behind these so called "umbrella permit". I don't see any advantage for GW who are of legal status after Nov.28

whatever hidden purpose that is... let us be prepared.

Read and COMPREHEND before signing.

Anonymous said...

As I understand it, the permit means that you do not "fall out of CNMI status" (subjecting yourself to federal deporation) if you still have a CNMI Labor case pending.

That seems to be all there is to it.

the teacher said...

Chamberonomics

The never ending story of shame on the Northern Marianas Islands continues.

As I have stated countless times, the status quo slavers have never wanted CGWs to be deported(it was only a threat and scare tactic), they only want them restricted, indentured, and starving for low pay. They know that in a free market society, supply and demand will prevail, and without CGWs, they will be forced to train and employ local citizens and increase their pay considerably.

We always knew that when push came to shove, the chamber would save the CGWs from deportaton right before federalization falls. This move will create more poverty among guest workers, which is near an unimaginable number now, and will force more young local kis off island in search of work.

Is that what we want to happen in the new CNMI?

Ron Hodges

Anonymous said...

Another scheme concocted by Siemer and blessed by Kara. What's the point of the permit? TO HOLD ON TO THE BROKEN LABOR SYSTEM! To trick the feds. To keep them off for a longer period of time. Wouldn't it be classic if the feds had the last laugh and Congress passed a bill to issue green cards to all long term workers?

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

And they all moved to D.C.

LOL

Anonymous said...

Or they stayed and were treated as humans

Anonymous said...

If Governor Fitial, Deanne Siemer, Howard Willens, and all the other Umbrella People truly gave a damn about the security of guest workers, their families, the stability of the labor force, the local economy, and the future of the CNMI --

They would never have engaged with Abramoff for years at taxpayers' expense to fight federalization and keep alive the CNMI's hopeless mess of an immigration and labor system,

They would not have fought to remove the grandfathering provision in the bill that would become U.S.P.L. 110-229,

They would not be suing the feds today in the hopes of getting an injunction on 110-229 and maintaining the status quo in the form of this crappy, abusive CNMI guest worker program,

They would not be lobbying today for yet another delay of PL 110-229,

They would never have drafted and lobbied for the passage of the local labor law, 15-108, in its current form, loopholes, ambiguities, basic rights violations, and all,

They would never have passed labor and immigration regs that jacked up fees at least twice, contradicted the labor law in many respects, and made life more confusing and insecure for workers and businesses,

They would have supported the passage of the Resident Foreign National Act and not fought as hard as they did to kill it,

They would not have concocted this bogus "umbrella permit" that is inexplicably issued by Labor and not Immigration though it does not actually authorize people to work,

They would not be proposing to make the recipients of these "umbrella permits" sign away their rights to medical and repatriation coverage from their last employer of record, which they would be entitled to by law (yep, the very same law that Deanne wrote);

They would have thought this proposal out very carefully and talked to the actual stakeholders and shown them the proposal beforehand so that they could have had more time to prepare their questions for the meeting at the consulate (instead of asking the workers to endorse the proposal before they had even begun to understand it),

and perhaps most importantly,

most obviously,

They would all be lobbying U.S. Congress like hell to grant permanent status to these people and finally free them from the shackles of fear, uncertainty, and corruption that has gone hand in hand with the CNMI guest worker program for nearly 30 years.

Permanent status would mean something. "Umbrella status" -- what does that mean?

And what does it mean that Fitial, Siemer, Willens, and their fellow Umbrellas just can't quite bring themselves to come right out and say that shutting down the guest worker program and granting permanent status would really be in the best interests of the CNMI?

They are, after all, still "expecting" to win the federalization lawsuit -- and "winning" to them means the CNMI can continue to do what it damn well pleases with its guest worker program.

To me it means they are not sincere.

To me it means they can't be trusted.

And I don't trust them one bit.

Anonymous said...

The two year permit was a clever idea, and it is difficult to oppose.

Since non-residents have not yet been granted green cards, the provison allows workers the right to transfer jobs, and to complain to the department of labor, without getting deported.

All the jobs (and votes) from the department of labor are saved, and it will function as it always had for the next 2 years.

The business sector (and donations) like the idea, because instead of having to get H-visas at higher waqes, they will still have access to low paid contract workers.

The only people that are disadvantaged by the umbrella permit are (1) the local skilled workers with no family connections that are competing against non-residents workers with years of experience. I don't have any concrete statistics, but my guess is the number is small, and (2) the miniscule percentage of highly skilled workers who would replace departing or out of conract employees with H-visas.

Anonymous said...

to anon 11:15pm.

you echoed my sentiments. hurrah! let us not be fooled by a wolf in a sheep's clothing.

at any rate, if the umbrella will be advantageous to most guest workers, so be it. "better than nothing" at this moment. grandfathering would have been the best for all of us, if it was not removed.

Anonymous said...

The amount of US Taxpayer money spent on non US Citizen Contract Workers will be noted and published. I hope that the US Taxpayer Family who cannot afford any health care, who is facing foreclosure will know that their hard earned money may be spent on adults who act like children, who need to be coddled and spoon fed. We'll see how long that lasts with the US Taxpayer and any elected supporter of such nonsense.

Anonymous said...

To anon above:

I hope that the US Taxpayer knows that contract workers pay taxes too.

Anonymous said...

To Anon 4:36 a.m.

The amount of money spent on each contract workers, came back as a form of profit to each investors. You have to invest the get your money back with profit.

The amount of money spent on a houseworker came back to his/her employer. The employer was able to leave his house and work because the house worker took care of his/her house or children.

Anonymous said...

To continue the status quo and to provide protection from the continuing/lessening of contract workers when federalization comes, the Administration now tries to appease those foreign investors/entrepreneurs who are all in hardship “to continue doing business with us” and “don’t fold up”. To the CWs, the message would be “please stay with us for 2 years more and be on standby”, whether you have work or not (you have a complaint/appeal) you can stay for 2 more years. In short CNMI would like the investors and CWs to not to look for no other place, and bear with them for 2 more years, thus, this “umbrella” thingy. To those “investors” who would like to be fooled of the CNMI prospect, then this umbrella may convince them of their continued use of CWs for their investment project. However, noble the intention was, the drafters have “added” their own flavorings according to their distaste for CWs (Siemer/2xKara) and added their “silent poisons”. The CWs were again treated as a commodity disposable in 2 years.

Anonymous said...

6:48

That's a nice sentiment but they can NOT stay two years if they do not have a job.

Anonymous said...

That's right. They have a home, it's called the Philippines. Their country. When contract workers are phased out completely by the DHS, will they have full health coverage when they return to the PI?

Anonymous said...

Why is Woodruff involved in this? I thought he represented the workers?

Anonymous said...

oops, thanks for spilling the beans. care to enlighten us?

Wendy said...

Hey 1st 8:11

All the OCWs are not from Philippines.
The Philippines has BETTER medical care than the CNMI that's why the referrals from CHC are sent to the Philippines.

Anonymous said...

Field hospitals in Kosovo have better medical care than the CNMI.

That wasn't my question Wendy.