Illegal workers have 8 more days to register • Number of registrants falls short of DOLI’s projections
Some 2,650 illegal workers in the Northern Marianas have come out of hiding and sought the limited amnesty offer by the government, but the number falls short of the projected 5,000 to 15,000 overstaying aliens on the island.
Implemented last December, the six-month program ends on June 1 when the Department of Labor and Immigration begins a massive manhunt against illegals who have ignored the immunity grant, according to task force chief Jeff Camacho.
As of May 14, there were 1,357 overstaying Filipino workers who had registered at the department under the program, 970 Chinese, 214 Bangladeshis, 50 Koreans, 17 Sri Lankans, 15 Nepalese, eight Japanese, four Hong Kong nationals and two Pakistanis.
Most of these foreigners have been given a one-year work permit, while some have been issued a 90-day temporary work authorization (TWA) to seek employment in the Commonwealth.
“I’m pretty sure that there may be some people out there in hiding because they probably don’t think that they can work legally or they are scared to be arrested,” Camacho said.
Although the department has suspended arrest of illegals to give way to the implementation of the program, the DOLI official warned immigration agents will go after those who remain illegal at the expiration of the six-month truce.
“We haven’t arrested anybody from day one of this program but the immigration will go out and apply the full force of the law and any illegals will be sanctioned for deportation,” he said.
Under the law, illegals who entered the islands on or before January 1, 1998 may seek the one-time immunity from prosecution and deportation over a six-month period upon implementation by DOLI.
The measure has also imposed a fine of $300 on local employers for every illegal worker hired in exchange for immunity from possible prosecution and higher penalty.
Registrants are issued temporary work authorization to enable them to find work within 90 days, or they have an option to voluntarily leave the island as some amnesty-seekers had done.
The law is part of the reform measures implemented by the Tenorio administration to deal with growing problems on labor and immigration which have prompted some Washington officials to press for federal takeover of the CNMI.
According to Camacho, they have even flushed out nonresident workers who have had no legal documents for the past 11 years. “I’m glad that they have finally come out to pay taxes too just like everyone of us who are legal.”
He expressed satisfaction that the program has enabled the overstaying aliens to find jobs — some were hired by garment factories — so that they can continue to work and pay taxes to the government at the same time.
It is, however, unlikely that the CNMI government will extend the immunity offer beyond the June 1 deadline. Camacho issued fresh calls to those who are still in hiding to register at the DOLI during the eight days remaining under the program.
“If you are still an illegal, be legal so that way you won’t be in trouble,” he said.