Senate OKs bill to shorten immunity period

Posted on Dec 18 1998

Senators yesterday passed a bill that will cut short by three months the time granted for illegal foreign workers seeking the ongoing amnesty program of the government to hasten their placement into various jobs on the island.

The measure will also exempt La Mode, Inc. from the current hiring ban and garment moratorium to allow the factory to dip into the available labor pool and employ 300 nonresident workers.

Proposed by Senate Floor leader Pete P. Reyes, Senate Bill 11-93 aims to stabilize the labor situation in the Northern Marianas following the implementation of the limited immunity law on December 2.

Nearly 1,000 overstaying aliens have since registered at the Department of Labor and Immigration to legalize their status and help them find lawful employment in the commonwealth.

The bill noted the efficient mechanism set up by DOLI to implement the six-month program which is scheduled to end by May next year — a period considered “unnecessarily long” by the legislators.

“To expedite the process of placing illegal aliens into jobs and to try to stabilize the Commonwealth labor situation, it is necessary to shorten the limited immunity period to encourage illegal aliens to come in and register as soon as possible,” it said.

Under the proposal, the government shall grant immunity to overstaying aliens only up to March 1, 1999. It now heads to the House of Representatives for action.

La Mode, meanwhile, has faced bureaucratic difficulties in seeking work permits for the 300 guest workers because of questions resulting from the imposition of Public Law 10-9 or the Garment Industry Moratorium Act and PL 11-6 or the hiring ban on foreign manpower.

But the legislature, in its findings, said the company is a licensed manufacturer in the CNMI that has invested at least $1 million here to build a new factory and has complied with labor laws.

“The legislature makes this finding recognizing that it desires to control the number of nonresident workers…, but that this desire must be balanced against the good faith expectations of business that expended money with reasonable expectations of being able to do business in the commonwealth,” the bill pointed out.

According to Reyes, La Mode will be permitted to hire the required work force even with the employment cap under existing laws and may increase the number when it provides jobs to the amnesty seekers.

The laws were put in place under growing pressure from the federal government dismayed over alleged failure by island leaders to curb the number of contract workers in the NMI, most of whom from poor Asian countries.

Although there is no official record on the number of illegal aliens here, estimates ranged between 5,000 to 15,000. DOLI expects that up to 2,000 workers will seek the immunity by the end of the program.

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