Umbrella Permits: Confusion at DOL

January 17, 2010

Last Friday over 1,500 guest workers lined up at the CNMI Department of Labor. Many are saying, "For what?!" Guest worker leaders, advocates and guest workers are questioning whether the CNMI DOL even has the authority to call the guest workers to report there. Some say that they do not.

From today's Marianas Variety:
On Friday, hundreds of guest workers gathered at Labor to process their documents.
Kaipat said these guest workers were given a “report back” paper to complete their deficiency in getting the records of their status.
The guest workers, she said, have various concerns that Labor needs to address.
Some have only a temporary permit before Nov. 28, 2009 when the federal government took over local immigration.
“Their applications are in various stages,” Kaipat said.
Huh? Various stages? everything should have been completed before November 28, 2009.

NMI Deputy Secretary Cinta Kaipat claims that the CNMI DOL has the "authority to oversee the CNMI’s workforce until 2011." Others say that CNMI DOL has authority to oversee only the local workforce, not the foreign guest workers.

Rabby Syed, president of the United Workers Movement questions whether the DOL has the legal authority to issue "report back papers" while the UWM Chairman, Ronnie Doca said that once again DOL has failed to adopt "a systematic way of dealing with hundreds of people." He cited confusion and shouting at the office.

Attorney Jane Mack from Micronesian Legal Services left this comment on my previous post, CNMI Department of Labor Hell:
1. Don't burn your umbrella permits! They are valuable, as they provide status for you to stay in the CNMI the full term-until 11/27/2011.

2. I think that before any worker lines up they should get legal advice, or contact USCIS about their status. I'm not sure that they need worry.

3. The CNMI can't revoke the umbrella permits as they are immigration status permits and the CNMI has lost control over immigration.

4. If the CNMI tries to get more fees form workers and add conditions to the umbrella permit, like now requiring an identification card, they are overstepping their authority--they have no more authority regarding the umbrella permits.

5. What can the CNMI do if foreign contract workers don't pay, don't line up, don't try to deal with the alleged revocation? They can't deport the workers; they can't enforce any labor sanction against them--the workers have the backing of the USCIS that they are legally present and have authority to work if they have an umbrella permit.

There may be something I'm not thinking of, so I'd be curious to hear about it. But really, it seems like the workers should not waste their time or money at this point if they have their umbrella permits; they should just work.
It would be extremely helpful if a U.S. official could come out with some talking points on the umbrella permit and what authority, if any, that the CNMI DOL has over foreign contract workers.

The U.S. Department of Interior's Assistant Secretary for Insular Affairs Tony Babauta said that foreigners in the CNMI with legal status as of November 28, 2009 are considered legal and should not fear deportation. From the Saipan Tribune:
In interview with reporters on Capital Hill yesterday afternoon, Babauta said the law that implemented U.S. immigration in CNMI allows foreign workers to remain in the CNMI if they were legally here on Nov. 28, “without any fear of deportation, until the Department of Homeland Security issues its regulations on CNMI transitional worker permits.”

But Babauta said the foreigners' ability to stay here is not indefinite.

“True, not indefinitely, but there should be no threat of deportation going on this soon after the transition date has taken place,” he said.

He did not comment on the CNMI government's issuance of umbrella permits which allow nonresidents to remain in the CNMI for two years or up to 2011, but said: “I recognize that if you are legal on the date of the transition, which is Nov. 28, 2009, and you're legal and in good standing, you're entitled to be in the CNMI.”
Labor Ombudsman Pamela Brown said “the umbrella permits were a nice way for the local government to make sure everybody had some type of status; and as such, a lot of people that perhaps were out of status got brought into legal status.” From the article:
She said anybody with a legal permit status under CNMI law, whether a student or a guest worker as Nov. 28 is therefore “legal under federal law.”

Her office made an “accounting” of guest workers and their dependents. Some 19,000 came forward to register with her office.

Babauta said the Ombudsman's Office's numbers will be used in the Interior's report to the U.S. Congress.


Anonymous said...

The CNMI I-9 form states (for those without the red band) a foreign passport or temporary authorization letter issued by the Department of Labor before Nov. 28, 2009 containing the name and photograph of the individual, if the period of employment has not yet expired and the proposed employement is not in conflict with any restrictions or limitations identified in the temporary work authorization letter. The meaning of "not in conflict with any restrictions or limitations" is the language at issue.

I think the language will have to be decided in a court decision, but who would bring suit. Employers and workers actually benefit from the umbrella permit. The uemployed and underemployed local workers (citizens and permanent residents) are the ones that are hurt, and they don't have a voice.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Pamela S. Brown, for standing up in support of contract workers.

The CNMI has no business continuing to collect fees and revoking work authorization now that the feds have taken over immigration!

The person with standing to contest this is someone who receives a Notice of Hearing for removal by DHS on the basis that his CNMI work authorization has been revoked because the employer went out of business.

So the Saipan Immigration Court, Board of Immigration Appeals, and ultimately the Ninth Circuit will have the last word on this question.

Too bad people don't spend more time helping actual workers instead of ruining the CNMI economy by publishing speculation about a federal detainee in CNMI custody.

In this, as in so many areas, the legal system will proceed slowly but surely.

Anonymous said...

There are actually two separate issues. (1) Does the CNMI DOL have the ability to revoke or reissue an underlying work permit, and (2) Can the CNMI DOL revoke an umbrella permit?

USCIS has already recognized the existence of the colored bands on their Federal CNMI I-9 worker eligiblity form. If CNMI DOL does not have the ability to revoke and reissue underlying permits, if an employer goes out of business, the employee cannot legally work in the CNMI.

As far as the CNMI DOL revoking an entire Umbrella permit and workers being out of status and deportable, that is a complete and separate issue, and I can't say for certain if they do or they don't have the authority, but is the CNMI DOL trying to revoke the umbrella itself?

The problem though is that by disregarding the authority of the DOL many would be working illegally (transfers and new hires) and hence deportable even with the umbrella permit.

Anonymous said...

What is the meaning of the colored bands?