Easing of nonresident workers’ stay sought

Posted on Jun 28 1999

The proponent of a stringent legislative initiative seeking a five-year limit on the stay of guest workers in the Commonwealth has agreed to relax his proposal by making the restrictions applicable only to those who are hired after January 1,1999.

Another amendment would also call for reduction of the cumulative number of years of employment on the island to four as the initial bill might be grounds for alien workers to qualify for permanent residency if and when U.S. immigration laws are applied here.

Senate Vice President Thomas P. Villagomez, author of Senate Legislative Initiative 11-5, said he would ask the House of Representatives for changes on his proposal before voting on the floor.

The initiative, passed by senators last March, needs to get two-thirds votes of the House, or at least 12 representatives of the 18-member body should approve it before it is included in the ballot for the midterm elections in November.

But the proposal has yet to be tackled by the House, and Villagomez vowed to lobby for support following last week’s passage of his other legislative initiative seeking indigenous-only vote on issue affecting land alienation in the CNMI.

The move to ease limitations provided under SLI 11-5 is in response to clamor from the community for fair legislation so that those who have been working on the island for several years would not be impacted once the proposed constitutional amendment gets the majority votes in the forthcoming polls.

The controversial initiative seeks to disbar any guest worker from returning for employment in the CNMI after working cumulatively for five years beginning from the date of entry.

Villagomez’ proposed amendment, however, will reduce the employment period to four years and will only affect workers hired after January 1 of this year.

“If you are going to hire somebody new, you can have him or her only for four years and after he has to go back home,” the senator said in an interview Friday.

“If the worker has been here prior to January 1, 1999, you can continue to renew his employment contract as long as you want him,” Villagomez added.

However, these nonresident workers will still be subjected to the three-year stay limit that was signed into law early this year which requires them to exit the Commonwealth for six months prior to getting a new employment.

These efforts are part of the attempt by the CNMI government to curb the number of migrant workers in the island, particularly from impoverished Asian countries, whose continuous influx in recent years has drawn the ire of federal government and prompted the White House to press takeover of local labor and immigration.

Business leaders have continued to oppose the law, but Villagomez has underscored the need to put this issue to a referendum so that the initiative — once it gets the vote in November — will be part of the constitutional provision and cannot be repealed unlike the new law.

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