CNMI's Long-term Investors Face Exile

June 19, 2013

They came from China, the Philippines, Korea and other Asian countries, years and even decades ago, to invest in small businesses in the CNMI. They opened upholstery shops, auto repair shops, beauty parlors, laundries, tailors, groceries and other small to medium-sized businesses.  They have paid taxes, employed thousands, and boosted the CNMI economy. Now they live in uncertainty and fear as local and federal officials play politics with their status.

The foreign investors were not mentioned in the U.S. Senate bill 's CNMI provision and will likely will not be mentioned in the House version either. According to sources, Delegate Sablan did not and will not specifically include them in comprehensive immigration legislation.

The investors are considering hiring a lobbyist for a large sum of money, but that move will unlikely help their cause. Unfortunately, there is an antiquated and senseless tradition in the U.S. Congress where members bow to the wishes of the member whose district is "affected" by the legislation. This unwritten rule supposedly prohibits others from interfering in local matters, even when human rights, justice and moral issues are on line.  This time-honored code of "don't interfere in my business and I won't interfere in yours" may also be used as an excuse to avoid conflict in the "good ol' boys" club. Whatever, it is unlikely that the foreign investors will see their status reconciled under current pending legislation.

These investors will be forced to leave the CNMI in December 2014 or 5 years later if the flawed CNMI-Only Transitional Worker Program is extended. Unfair they cry, and they are right. If the current Senate immigration bill is signed into law, an estimated 12,000 -16,000 CNMI legal, long-term nonresidents would receive a pathway to citizenship.  Also, under the bill, an estimated 11 million undocumented aliens would receive a pathway to citizenship. There is no provision for the CNMI investors or EC-2 holders.

From the Saipan Tribune:
“We believe extension is a trap. We're asked to stay for more years, but after waiting for five more years or so, we will still have uncertain status. We've been here 10 years, 15 years,” one of the E2-C investors said. 
They repeatedly said if the U.S. Congress is giving pathway to citizenship to undocumented aliens, “why not give the same to legal long-term investors” in the CNMI which they said is “a part of the United States.” 
They added that they do not plan on running for office when they get improved status. 
“We don't want to wait any more. If there's only extension, we might as well go to Guam and other U.S. places. But if they grant improved status, we will stay and continue to invest here, continue to hire workers here,” one of them added.
The investors, who the news media says threatened to pull out an estimated $20 million and leave the CNMI may be wise to do so. They may have better luck in a U.S. locality that is more socially, politically and economically stable.

Since 1990, under the U.S. EB-5 Program, the U.S. Government has granted green cards to foreigners who invest $500,000 in a U.S. business and employ a minimum of 10 U.S. citizens. However, few CNMI investors have qualified under this program.

The legal, longterm small business investors who were lured to the CNMI, made the islands their home and contributed so much for years and decades do not qualify for green cards even though some of them estimate that over the years they have invested even more than $500,000 in the CNMI. The foreign investors would have to be a new business investing $500,000 to qualify under the EB-5 Program.

The CNMI's small business investors agree that an extension of the flawed CNMI-Only Transitional Worker Program would not help them. One investor said an extension would just prolong their agony and "keep us on our toes."

From the Saipan Tribune:
Christine K. Lee, a long-term Korean investor with E2-C status, earlier called for improved status for E2-C investors in the CNMI. 
“I believe CNMI investors deserve better and should be granted immediate U.S. citizenship instead,” Lee said. 
Another option to avoid the mass exodus of E2-C investors is to extend the E2-C program beyond 2014. 
But the CNMI Chinese Investors Association as well as Korean E2C investors including Lee oppose extending the E2C program. 
Tang said that extending the program will only prolong the “uncertainty” and “instability” in the CNMI whereas an improved status will help stabilize the economy. 
“We want an improved status and we want to stay here in the CNMI,” one of the investors said. 
These spokespersons are correct. An extension of a flawed program is no help, unless the program itself is overhauled to eliminate the flaws. A guest worker program must include a pathway to citizenship to be moral and just. Without such a provision, the program is unethical and undemocratic, regarding laborers as replaceable commodities.

Any foreign investor thinking of dropping money in the CNMI would be wise to look at the treatment of the current investors and think twice.

Shame on the local and federal officials for not coming to the defense of these legal foreign investors who have made the CNMI their home. They have demonstrated their loyalty and commitment through the many contributions they have made to the CNMI over the years and decades. They deserve to be included in any comprehensive immigration reform legislation!


Anonymous said...

Local officials and other citizens who fought federalization were demonized and dragged over the coals. After all the feds were gonna bring justice to the cws and green cards. Then people actually read the law. Zero out CWs by 2014 and implement Federal law. There is no sugar coating this and no one can start interpreting the laws to their liking. Some influential people supported the takeover because their friends or spouses hire and make a lot of money off of skilled contract workers. Their intentions were clear: if we lose our skilled labor we must hire US citizens and lose money. 95% of this is about money Wendy not some humanitarian cause.

Anonymous said...

CNMI small investors are not included in the CNMI provision in U.S senate immigration bill because of many other greedy investors or giant investors or crooks of Saipan Chamber of Commerce and of course Mr. George Kilili Sablan (our honorable U.S CNMI-Washington D.C congressman). These small investors are also branded as “Pirates of the islands” by Saipan Chamber of Commerce. U.S citizen workers are also employed by these small investors to run businesses. But Mr. Kilili thinks, “They are not necessarily needed to be added in CNMI immigration provisions “. And he does not want anybody to interfere with this because his advice to small investors, “It is not too late to make a decision, pack your business out of CNMI to some other place else where your investments are valued and respected”. Mr. Kilili forgets to say, “Discouraging investors to invest and grow CNMI economy will bring more sufferings to the people of CNMI”. And he wants them also to stay as a request submitted to U.S Department of Labor to extend CW-1 or E2C flawed programs run by U.S department of Homeland Security in CNMI. These investors and alien workers are just twisted in such a way that only U.S congress needs to rescue them and nobody else. What have U.S Government Accountability Office, U.S Department Of Labor, U.S Department Of Interior, U.S Department Homeland Security and CNMI Governor got to say?

Anonymous said...

Anon 3:17

Yes,this is all about money. CNMI government is still contracting with this small businesses for as low as $3.00 per hour labor cost. Check out their cleaning services, general maintenance providers. How about these hotels manpowered by these small businesses at same very inhumane rate not to mention that CWs have to pay for their papers just to keep their jobs. Pathetic! CNMI is on the list of third world countries!!!

Wendy Doromal said...


Are you saying that the CNMI Government pays below minimum wage to hire manpower from these businesses or are the businesses not paying their employees proper wages? Please clarify with specifics and also inform Pam Brown, the Federal Labor Ombudsman -her contact information is in the left sidebar on this site.

Anonymous said...

Ms. Wendy, I learned it from a businessman who owns cleaning services and general maintenance services. He said they just got outbid from PSS for a quote submitted to them for $6/hour per worker. The contractor who got it dived as low as $3/hour. He said, it happens also at other govt agency and with the hotels here. I'm really wondering how could a business like them pay their workers a decent salary considering some other expenses costing their companies. Can you imagine how these business report their wages on their W2s? Those figures are probably not true and poor workers accept it just to keep their jobs. I wonder too why USCIS don't get the real picture of these crook businesses.

captain said...

In regards to 9:47 comment, this is true and has been for many years.
This is how many companies such as one owned by Ladd and GPPC get many contracts by under bidding even though these companies have labor complaints.
They have "sponsorship" agreements in many cases.
In many other cases they just allow many workers that have not been renewed or have been fired stay in their barracks and freelance and also use them for below minimum pay so they can get these contracts.
That is also why many of the project by these and other companies have very poor workmanship and are always not on time schedule.

Years ago I had sponsored many, mostly women that had been fired or were being shipped out because they were pregnant.
These women freelanced at various jobs and usually got screwed over by the people that they worked for as they did not have a contract and actually were working illegal.

It got to take up much of my time trying to get these women their correct pay.
I was also told by many that had hired them and refused to pay them to go file a complaint as they knew I, or they could not under the circumstances.

Green Cards for All! said...

Small, under-capitalized foreign-owned firms were among of the major perpetrators of CNMI labor abuse from the 1980s, 1990s, and beyond.

This was one of the primary reasons for the federalization of minimum wages and immigration.

Given the will of Congress as expressed through duly enacted laws, it is unsurprising that the owners of these businesses should receive extreme scrutiny by the federal government. Particularly their payments of wages and taxes over the years.

It is only right and just that they receive status, if at all, after the workers, so many of whom suffered abuse at their hands.

Business owners are still able to apply for any other immigration status to which they are legally entitled. Moving here and bringing a dozen relatives to work, then seldom paying them, should not qualify.

Wendy Doromal said...

6:44 I understood that to qualify investors had to invest $50,000 in a business in the CNMI. If they did not pay taxes, did not pay permits and did not pay workers fair wages that shows two things -that they did not follow the laws and that the CNMI and US governments did not enforce the laws. (Rather like in the U.S. where undocumented immigrants entered the US illegally, did not pay taxes, broke laws and those who hired them under the table broke laws too.)

However, there are legitimate small businesses owners who followed the laws, paid their taxes, hired employees and paid them fairly. If they are to be granted an upgraded status, I am sure that they will be scrutinized to qualify.

No need to stereotype.

Anonymous said...

Small uncapitalized firms without the money to pay the workers were owned mostly by locals. Look over the unpaid judgements and the majority of he employers were locals not foreign owned. None of them were ever prosecuted!

Anonymous said...

Green cards got this straight:

“Small, under-capitalized foreign-owned firms were among of the major perpetrators of CNMI labor abuse from the 1980s, 1990s, and beyond….. Moving here and bringing a dozen relatives to work, then seldom paying them, should not qualify.”

And so does Captain.

And as a long time CNMI resident, I truly believe adhering to US visa laws mean a better Commonwealth and much more economic opportunity for local citizens. CNMI citizens cordially welcome legal investors from every land, but our citizens also disserve the same protections as US mainland Americans.