Imperial Pacific international (CNMI) LLC has requested the U.S. Department of Labor to restore the H2-B visa permits of its workers given the difficulty to repatriate them because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
During a hearing last Thursday, Michael Dotts, former IPI general counsel, told the U.S District Court for the NMI and USDOL that IPI would like to have its H2-B workers’ permits restored so that they are permitted to work at least for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Repatriation is difficult because the normal ports of entry that they transit through are now closed for transit. …Just in this situation, it would be nice if the workers could, when the stop-work order is lifted, they could go back and earn some wages. We would need permission from the U.S. government to allow this,” Dotts said.
IPI’s H2-B visas were initially supposed to expire at the end of January but USDOL revoked the H2-B visas earlier than expected due to non-payment of wages and other violations so IPI’s H2-B workers have been without valid immigration status.
Currently, the only option for these workers is repatriation.
USDOL senior trial attorney Boris Orlov said another unit within USDOL handles this kinds of situations but, as far as he understands, USDOL does not revoke or reverse these decisions.
“My understanding is, once this has been done, it’s usually not revoked or reversed. We will look into that and consult with them internally and get back with Mr. Dotts and report back to the court. Now that payments have been made, we could reach out to them and try to get their position on this. We learned about this request recently, and there’s a separate unit of USDOL that handles [this]. We would need to consult with them to get a better understanding,” he said.
U.S District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona Manglona told IPI that their request is out of her jurisdiction but encouraged IPI to continue with its compliance and hopefully persuade USDOL to reconsider.
“Actions speak louder than words and I don’t blame the secretary’s position. So long as there’s even one payroll that’s in arrears, these visas will not be restored. Given the efforts that have been undertaken, and the delivery of the payments, you might have a chance to convince the secretary to reconsider,” she said.
To date, IPI reports that it has complied with the court’s sanctions by paying 2020 back wages to its current employees, restored power and water to most of its employee housing, and are currently working on paying back wages to its employees from 2016 to 2017.