Representatives of Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC are scheduled to meet tomorrow, Jan. 31, with the group of construction workers that were recently laid off so that once and for all their concerns would be addressed and their fears allayed.
Philippine honorary consul to the CNMI Glicerio “Eli” Arago said IPI has yet to give them the final time and venue of the meeting. “We just want IPI to clarify everything and address all of their concerns. They are worried about their H-2B visas expiring and not getting paid.”
“They have been in limbo after some of them were informed that they are being laid off while some were scheduled to have already left Saipan because their visas are expiring. They are afraid to be branded as overstayers in the CNMI,” he added.
The more than 100 construction workers—masons, carpenters, plumbers, and electricians—from the Philippines hold H-2B visas, but are now worried after the country was recently removed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security from the said visa program.
Ian Piel, one of the construction worker who gathered at the U.S. Department of Labor satellite office on Mariana Heights II Building last Tuesday, said that IPI still owes him nine days of work, while adding that most of them have yet to receive their reimbursements for the H-2B visa and medical services fees that they paid in the Philippines.
IPI has yet to pay most of the workers after promising to settle their compensation a few days ago. Arago and his representatives are hoping the casino developer would finally address this and other related issues in their scheduled meeting.
The seven-day accrued paid time off, however, would be the prerogative of the company since the workers were laid off with their H-2B visas not being renewed due to the Philippines being banned, unlike the previous group of construction laborers that were terminated but had their H-2B visas renewed.
The workers said they were called to attend a meeting last Jan. 18, where an IPI representative verbally informed some of them of their stop work notices. They were then told that after three days they would receive their final pay and flight details to the Philippines.
More than a week had already passed and some of those workers are still here, waiting anxiously for any word about their compensation and airfare.
“All they need is proper communication from IPI. All of the workers want to go back to the Philippines to be with their families. We told them that we’re going to communicate with IPI. That’s the only thing that IPI needs to do, talk to the workers to address their concerns. Right now, these workers, they are all worried,” said Arago.
“Right now, they are in limbo. Communication is really needed to stop all the rumors and other things that these workers hear. IPI should communicate with them. I think IPI is willing to help them but the proper flow of information did not go through.”
The workers said they want IPI to clarify why they were only informed verbally not in writing of their stop work notices, why are they taking so long to release their final paychecks, and they want to have enough time to review if they are getting paid the right amount, and they need to know their flight details before their H2-B visa expires.
A legal volunteer at the Philippine honorary consul’s office, however, explained to the workers that there’s a grace period of at least 10 days that would not reflect on their record as an overstaying worker in a U.S. jurisdiction.
James Abel, one of the workers, has an expiration of Jan. 31 on his H-2B visa but it says on his I-94 form that it is still valid from Feb. 1 to Feb. 9. Still, he needs to leave the CNMI on or before Feb. 9.
The reason for that grace period, according to the legal volunteer, is due to unforeseen circumstances like problems in booking the flight back home or in case of natural disasters or calamities that could affect operations at the airport.