IHOP Saipan and Ajisen Ramen is losing its general manager after Michael Valencia’s petition for renewal of his CNMI-Only Transitional Worker visa was denied by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
USCIS last month cut 3,000 slots from the CW program and it now stands at 9,998.
Valencia has been working on Saipan the past 16 years and is set to go back to the Philippines on a flight scheduled this Christmas eve.
“I have been on this island for 16 years now. I started working at Hard Rock Cafe as restaurant and learning manager. I’m now the general manager for Ajisen Ramen and IHOP Saipan and in my last few days of work,” he said.
It is Valencia’s first time to be capped out.
“I was told that my application was rejected because the CW application is already full. Currently, my employer is seeking advise from a lawyer about my status on what kind of visa they could get me so I can still continue working with the company, but I still need to leave,” he added.
It has been a roller coaster ride for Valencia from waiting for the application to its outcome of being sent home.
“Like how any individual would feel when they’re about to lose their job, it feels like your future crashed before your eyes. The reality that I will be departing from this beautiful island soon makes me feel sad everyday, as I know I won’t be seeing my friends and co-workers that I consider family,” Valencia said.
“Lately every time I wake up I make sure to appreciate everything I see on this island because soon I won’t be seeing anymore. I feel bad for the company I am leaving behind and to some new small businesses on island. A lot of businesses are opening up and the major problem we are all facing is manpower,” he added.
Valencia has seen the CNMI in its lowest point and carried the burden just like anyone else.
“I have experienced the down times of the island in terms of economy where every company tried their best to keep the business running to the point of sacrificing some benefits and even cutting hours just to keep the business running. We, at the restaurant industry, tried our best to take extra care of our local customers and tourist to keep them coming back and to promote the island and its culture,” he said.
Valencia said he’s proud of the local and his fellow foreign workers’ contribution to the CNMI economy.
“Honestly speaking, the CNMI is where it is now it’s because of the hard work of the local and CW workers. I believe that CWs should not just get all the credit. Everyone plays a vital role and contributes,” he added.
Valencia would like to keep his head high and take his experiences from his 16 years of being part of the CNMI.
“I would like to have a different perspective on this that instead of feeling down and hopeless. I would like to encourage the other CWs who are in the same predicament to use all the experience that you have gained while working in the CNMI and use this to further yourself in your next career or job,” he said.
“I know it’s easier said than done and I understand my colleagues who have children here, but our time here was worthwhile. We underwent various trainings and seminars where U.S. standards are met so in a way, I will not go home empty handed as I have all these experience under my belt,” he added.
Valencia, however, is not really closing his doors to his second home.
“I will definitely go back when the opportunity comes. I call this island my home. I know this is not forever but I am hoping it would be. For many years I learned to love the island, its people, and the uniqueness of the culture because of some similarities to my own native culture,” he said.
In the end, Valencia said he’s very grateful for the 16 years he has worked on Saipan.
“My message to the community is I hope you don’t view us only as a temporary help but to look at us as people who will stand with you to help, love, and help the economy of the island,” he said.