Ombudsman Meeting Draws Huge Crowd: Umbrella Permit Status Explained

March 4, 2010

This morning (evening in Saipan) I interviewed Rabby Syed, President of the United Workers Movement by phone concerning the meeting at American Memorial Park. Rabby said that over 1,000 workers, members of the business community and interested residents showed up to listen to Federal Labor Ombudsman Pamela Brown's message. Mr. Dean Tenorio from the U.S. Department of Labor was also present.

The ombudsman addressed the issue of umbrella permits and announced that they were recognized by the US government as being valid until November 27, 2011. The ombudsman stated that there was no need for foreign workers to return to the CNMI Department of Labor for locally-issued permits. Her statement was received with thunderous applause and loud cheers from the crowd.

In January 2010 while visiting the CNMI, U.S. Department of Interior Assistant Secretary for Insular Affairs, Tony Babauta stated that there was no reason for those with umbrella permits to fear deportation. Still the question of the validity of umbrella permits has remained muddy, primarily because of the CNMI DOL's refusal to relinquish their authority over the foreign workers. In January the department was again calling foreign workers to the DOL. There were long lines of workers despite the fact that this blog and others advised them that they did not have to report to DOL.

The DOL reportedly charged workers for TWAs and other permits that are no longer required. (I am unsure of the process the foreign workers would have to follow to retrieve the money they paid in unauthorized fees.)

Ms. Brown spoke for about an hour delivering the message on the status of umbrella permits and taking and answering questions from the crowd. The major points concerning umbrella permits are:

Umbrella permits are valid until November 27, 2011.

Any person who has a valid umbrella permit can work in the CNMI, including foreign students and foreign investors as long as they carry out the responsibilities of their original permit. For instance, a student would have to remain in school while working.

The CNMI DOL no longer has authority over foreign nationals. No foreign national needs to report to DOL regardless of any reporting date printed on the umbrella permit. Even if DOL revotes a valid umbrella permit, the alien worker remains authorized to work in the CNMI under federal law until November 27, 2011.

Employers do not need the approval of the CNMI DOL to hire an alien with a valid umbrella permit. New hires will be required to complete Section 1 of form I-9 on the day the umbrella permit holder begins work, and the employer will complete Section 2 of the form within three business days of the employee being hired.

The requirement that businesses must hire a certain percentage of US citizens before hiring foreign workers is no longer valid.

An employer or the CNMI government cannot "send a foreign worker home", remove or deport an alien. Only DHS has such authority.

If an employee is not renewed he/she can remain in the CNMI until November 27, 2011 to locate a new employer.

Lost, stolen or damaged umbrella permits can only be replaced at the CNMI Department of Labor. DHS does not replace these permits.

Foreign nationals are allowed to work at multiple jobs with no restriction on hours.

Employers are still responsible for an employee's medical and workers compensation coverage.

If an alien is not in custody of the DHS, he/she may leave the CNMI at any time at the employer's expense.

Foreign workers will need to transition to a federal CNMI employment-based program by November 28, 2011 if they wish to remain in the CNMI.

38 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wow! Thanks God! Thank you Mam Wendy for posting. What a relief!

Anonymous said...

"Employers are still responsible for an employee's medical and workers compensation coverage.

If an alien is not in custody of the DHS, he/she may leave the CNMI at any time at the employer's expense."


Workers Comp is required by law for everyone, but medical coverage and repatriation expenses are solely features of CNMI alien labor law and the standard CNMI employment contract in conformity with that law.

When hiring a new Umbrella Permit holder under the federal I-9 process, an employer would be well advised to enter a short one-page "at will" contract with none of these benefits.

Indeed, they may wish to enter new contracts with existing employees, doing away with medical and repatriation benefits.

Will the Ombudsman's Office still assist current employees with complaints about violations of existing CNMI contracts to file complaints with the CNMI Department of Labor?

It would seem Pamela S. Brown can't have it both ways, rejecting CNMI authority for approving contracts and worker status, but proceeding under that authority when workers' contracts and status are violated.

Wendy said...

Anonymous 3:38

The ombudsman's office was created to assist the foreign workers. If a complaint is to be filed with the US Department of Labor, through a CNMI or US law enforcement agency or appropriate CNMI department, the ombudsman's office can assist.

I don't get your point. What is it? What do you mean Pam Brown can't have it both ways?

yho r villavicencio said...

anon 3:38

the way i understand it is that -
1)existing "previously approved CNMI employment contracts" between employers and employees states that the employer is responsible for repatriation, medical expenses, etc., employees in turn have to deliver their part as stated in the contract. this contract should be honored by both parties.
2) effective 11/28/2009, to enter into a new employment contract and to renew or rather continue the current employment after the expiration of the CNMI work permit, you need not go to CNMI DOL for processing. it would be a mutual agreement between the employer and the employee.

i believe it is not about having it both ways but rather, following the rules set forth by the applicable laws at the time the contract was drawn.

i'm just glad that finally a public announcement was made on this issue. thank you Ms. Pam.

Anonymous said...

RIP DOL! bye-bye to power plays. so long to big fees. adios to favoring employers. i'll take my chances with the feds any day.

Saipan Writer said...

I'm glad for the statement. It helps in many ways.

It does not, however, completely close the door on the CNMI Department of Labor. I agree in part with anon 3:38 AM.

This part is the bit that stood out to me: "Lost, stolen or damaged umbrella permits can only be replaced at the CNMI Department of Labor. DHS does not replace these permits."

This seems to indicate that the CNMI DOL still has authority in some regard over umbrella permits. There is no answer to the questions whether workers should be getting "permanent" umbrella permits, relinquishing the paper ones they have, and paying $25 for the permanent ones now being issued by CNMI DOL.

The "permanent" umbrella permit may have longer-lasting qualities and be worth the $25 for that reason alone. But will USCIS recognize these, since they are "issued" after 11/28/2009? It seems that if they will recognize replacement umbrella permits, they might still be leaving room for these. (I had hoped otherwise.)

Also, anon is right--if some contract issues are solely matters of CNMI labor law, then there is no complaint to be made to US Labor. Will CNMI DOL still be handling labor complaints for CNMI contracts in effect through 11/27/2011?

The information from Pam is good; it helps clear the air on some issues. But the situation is still a bit confusing legally and administratively.

Wendy said...

Hi Jane:

The new permits that are being issued for $25 are not "permanent" umbrella permits -they are called Foreign National IDS and no one needs to get one if they have a valid umbrella permit. If an alien wants to make sure that their umbrella permit is protected, they can get it laminated for less than the $25 DOL is charging. A Foreign National ID is really an immigration permit and is not a labor permit or a "permanent" umbrella permit. It appears to be another revenue-making ploy. Additionally, the proposed law that a foreigner must carry the ID on their person or face a fine is another disturbing way for DOL to attempt to exert local power over the foreign workers and suck money from them. No worker needs to get this ID if they have a valid umbrella permit.

Any remaining questions should probably be addressed to the ombudsman for clarification.

Anonymous said...

So what happens now? What does all of his really mean anyway? Why the public podium and forum? That's what newspapers are for. Publish a letter instead of wasting US Federal Taxpayer money on Pamela Brown Blackburn's enormous expenses. We will be requesting ALL of the expenses that US Taxpayers are footing for her position and all related travel, food, lodging, etc. The jobless family in Seattle wants to know.

Anonymous said...

Welcome to the Federal System

$2.13/hr for waitress, and club dancers.

According to the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act, tipped employees are individuals engaged in occupations in which they customarily and regularly receive more than $30 a month in tips. The employer may consider tips as part of wages, but the employer must pay at least $2.13 an hour in direct wages.

Health Screens at Worker's expense

"deducted" housing not inspected.

Federal law allows up to 1/3 of worker salary to be deducted.

Banned employers (with abuses and complaints) now able to hire foreign workers

No forum to address complaints.

Anonymous said...

Although Pamela S. Brown has made her pronouncement, presumably in consultation with DHS and DoL, the latter have the final say and legal authority.

It will be interesting to learn what the regulations will provide, especially those of USCIS.

This is not the unvarnished blessing it is being made out to be, especially for those who were hoping to have their employer send them home. Have you noticed the increase in Delta's air fares to the Philippines?

I predict a lot of employers will unilaterally stop providing medical and repatriation benefits, or terminate the alien employers and "re-hire" them with much more stingy benefits.

"Having it both ways" means thinking alien workers can throw away the burdens of the CNMI labor system, while still reaping the benefits.

Hint. If you expect to go to CNMI court to collect, it would behoove you to continue to follow CNMI laws and regulations.

Wendy said...

Anonymous 1:18

I'm sorry, I did not know that newspapers answered questions!

What are the ombudsman's "enormous" expenses? The federal ombudsman's office is tremendously underfunded!

What on earth are you ranting about? She has a job to assist foreign contract workers and she is doing it. Or is that really what your complaint is really about?

Anonymous 1:31

Was it determined that exotic dancers and the other categories that were questioned by the DHS were approved under the federal CNMI-only worker program? The final rule has not come out yet. Any employer can offer a base rate, but most offer much more or they won't get quality employees.

Weren't any health screenings paid for by the employee's already? On paper the employers were supposed to pay for them, but many employers told their foreign workers if they wanted to be renewed they would have to pay for their own physicals.

How many foreign workers got a reasonable housing allowance (or any housing allowance) in recent years? How many workers lived in a barracks that qualified for OSHA inspections?

Banned employers allowed to hire workers? Really? So you are saying that any felon, any criminal, any one with no capital at all can fill out a form and get a foreign worker?

No forum to address complaints? What about the U.S. DOL? The USOAG? What about the complaints that were addressed to DOL and "settled" on paper only? What about all of the recent human trafficking cases that have been swept under the rug? Were the majority of labor complaints ever truly addressed under the local system? How many of those who complained ever received judgments?

Wendy said...

Anonymous 1:59

"Stingy employers" may not be able to find employees willing to work for them. The CNMI is not the only place that needs foreign workers. In the not too distant future employers will have to compete for the best workers by offering decent wages and benefits.

Hint? Who is suggesting disobeying CNMI laws and regulations?

Anonymous said...

There sure are alot of posters here who want to hang onto the local system. na na na na na na na na hey hey eh goodbye. and good riddance!

Anonymous said...

noni 1:59... Hint. Federalization. We asked for it, we got, and we're glad!

Anonymous said...

I personally question Pam Brown's statement, but I will accept it. I just belive that it may have some unintended consequences.

"No forum to address complaints?What about the U.S. DOL? The USOAG?"

Federal Labor Laws do not apply to employers with less than 15 employees.

"How many workers lived in a barracks that qualified for OSHA inspections?"

All employers who supply housing had inspectors from the CNMI Department of labor check them out.

"Weren't any health screenings paid for by the employee's already?"

I was referring to new screenings.

"Any employer can offer a base rate, but most offer much more or they won't get quality employees."

Unfortunately, I belive that with the current unemployment rate, that employers can offer low salaries, simple law of suppy and demand. Plus, Guam and most restaurants in the mainland pay waitresses $2.13+ tips, it is the base rate.

"Banned employers allowed to hire workers? Really? So you are saying that any felon, any criminal, any one with no capital at all can fill out a form and get a foreign worker?"

I don't belive that felons can obtain business licenses, but besides them anyone with capital can hire a foreign worker under Pam Brown's statement including Banned Employers who previously did not pay wages or hired workers illegally.

red october said...

Anon,

1.18 1.59 1.31

"Cry havoc and let slip" The weather is changing gradually.

Islander said...

We need the Local and Federal Govt to come together and educate the private sector about this new law..
EMPLOYEE SHOULD BE REPONSIBLE FOR MEDICAL AND REPATRIATIONS.. THATS FAIRNESS. If the Feds dont recognize local Labor then should come out with solutions to stabilize our economy.

kenneo said...

hi what will happen to the guest worker that has valid entry permit but no umbrelle permit. pls reply on this

Anonymous said...

DOL forgot to inspect my barracks.

Islander said...

If ur valid permit expired and you dont have umbrella, then you have to find a way to get some sort of legal status under the Fed immigrations.

Islander said...

I thought in the beginning someone was strongly encouraging the Contract Workers not to get the umbrella permit. Gosh lucky I went and got it.

Anonymous said...

An alien worker with a valid entry permit but no umbrella will have to leave at the end of their permit unless he or she has a new employer who obtains a transitional guest worker permit for him/her from DHS.

malou berueco said...

by ISLANDER "I thought in the beginning someone was strongly encouraging the Contract Workers not to get the umbrella permit. Gosh lucky I went and got it."
In the beginning, I was one of those discouraging workers to not to get their umbrella permit. Why? Because the introduction of that umbrella permit in the first forum at Phil. Consulate, this permit would not allow workers to work just to stay legally while looking for a job.And staying/living should be under Immigration Div.& initially this permit was only issued by DOL and not yet recognized/certified by Div. of Immigration. I cannot blame you for not knowing all these facts, for you may had not attended ALL the forums unlike me & the rest of my circle.

Wendy said...

Thank you Malou. In the beginning I also questioned the plan for umbrella permits. The plan was very poorly explained in the beginning. Aside from the lack of authority for DOL to issue an immigration document, I also questioned the fact that the permits had a provision that DOL could revoke them in the future. There was also a clause for the worker to take responsibility for his/her own medical care and repatriation expenses under certain circumstances. I know that you were among those in the forefront questioning at forums and meetings at DOL and the consulate. Anyone who wants to read about the umbrella permits, process, controveries and meetings can search past posts here.

Anonymous said...

The only reason the umbrella permits aren't totally superfluous is that the Department of Homeland Security decided (purely to foster a little goodwill, and not for any legal reason) to recognize them as having conferred legal status on those holding them. It was a good call to look upon them skeptically, at least until a closer analysis showed that obtaining one MIGHT help, and probably wouldn't hurt.

Islander said...

Thanks Malou.. I guess you're right, anyways with this new procedure, would this means that as a contract worker, we will be responsible for our Medical, and Repatriation? this will open more abuse to our workers.

Anonymous said...

Islander, your employer is still responsible for your repatriation and medical.

Islander said...

I am an umbrealla permit holder, I was not renewed, now I am seeking a new employer, based on my prospect employer, I will have to sign a mutual agreement that I will be reponsible for my Medical and Repatriations. Im confused!!!

Wendy said...

Isander:

I have said it dozens of times, I will say it again. Need help, advise or clarification on alien worker matters? Contact the Federal Ombudsman's Office: 322-8030 Mariana Heights II Building, Suite 203, Middle Road.

Anonymous said...

Can someone please answer this question:

Is it the goal of the DHS to remove all contract workers from the CNMI by a certain date?

Wendy said...

Anonymous:

You must be new to this site. The question of the removal of "all foreign workers" has been addressed over and over and over. (go to the search engine for this blog -left sidebar) PL 110-229 calls for bringing the total number of foreign workers to zero by 2014. Why? Because Fitial, lobbyists and CNMI and Guam nativist groups successfully lobbied and schemed to have the grandfathering provision removed. That is why we have been working ever since the removal of that provision to get permanent status for long term guest workers. Of course any worker who is given status, whether a green card or US citizenship, can remain in the CNMI. It would benefit the residents, nonresidents, tourist industry, businesses and economy if the long term guest workers were just given status!

Anonymous said...

So by 2014 there should be zero contract workers in the CNMI.

Another question:

Is the United States making ANY moves to grant green cards or citizenship to contract workers?

What are the plans?

malou berueco said...

"is it the goal of the DHS to remove all contract workers from the CNMI by a certain date?"-by anon mar.7-12:58am
it is the goal of DHS to TRANSIT/TRANSFER all cnmi guest workers UNDER federal guest worker program before nov.28, 2011....this DOES NOT mean the DHS will SEND US ALL BACK HOME! very impossible!!! those who will not be able to find a legal employer to hire them under CW or H visas will most likely go home...i suggest that don't wait this 2011 comes to find an employer who would apply you for CW or H visas...

Wendy said...

May 10, 2010 is only the deadline for the DOI to make a recommendation. As I have said repeatedly, the Congress has to act on the recommendation and get a law passed if they decide to grant status, which i believe they will. Status is in the future, but it could be the distant future. in the meantime, DHS should parole the foreign contract workers to keep families together and to stabilize the workforce.

The transition date can be extended past 2014 as allowed in PL 110-229. I think it would be a grave mistake. It would not be in the best interest of the foreign workers or the CNMI. The workers need to know if they will be granted status or not so they can make plans for their future. No one should be held in limbo any longer. The majority of the guest workers have worked over 5 years in the CNMI. They should be given a direct pathway to citizenship. People will support the extension because they want easy, cheap labor and like the idea of a disenfranchised underclass.

Malou's advice is correct. Guest workers need to align themselves as quickly as possible with the federal program. Hopefully, the final rule will be announced. soon. It has been two months since the comments have closed.

Anonymous said...

Many seem to overlook the other side of the coin. Contracts for guest workers are about worthless. Guest workers can hold as many jobs as they want. Guest workers can now be terminated much easier as there is no binding contract. As an employer, many of what I believed to be hard workers turned out to be dead weight but I was hindered as to terminating their employment. No longer. I will be purging my work force and hiring those that really want to work. No more free rides.

Anonymous said...

I am a student (have umbrella permit) and would like to convert to become a worker if I found a job, is it OK to drop-out and be a worker? I am not sure if the Ombudsman can answer this question bec. I am still under the commerce dept.

Melberlin said...

Anonymous 2:10,
Te other side of the coin maybe have another layers, terminating workers oftener sometimes is a costly mistake. Some employees go out of their way to make it as problematic as imaginable.
Often, they are workers who do major damage to your workplace environment and productivity.
When firing such an employee, you must know how to handle anything he or she may try.
All roads will lead the employee to the same goal. They must improve their behavior, perform the required tasks and follow orders. Otherwise, firing is your only choice.
Thanks, that's a nice message anyway and nobody think about it.

Anonymous said...

Public Law 110-229 was signed by President George W. Bush on Thursday, May 8, 2008. So the report by the Secretary of the Interior to the U.S. Congress is due no later than Saturday, May 8, 2010.

Not Monday, May 10, 2010. It's only two days difference, but I know you and Pamela S. Brown always like to give out accurate information.