Livelihoods hang in the balance


Last of a 4-part series

Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of special reports that Saipan Tribune is featuring every Friday this month, focusing on the “touchback” provision. The series will examine the rule’s impact on employers, affected workers, and the CNMI economy.

Even as only a handful of foreign workers were interviewed for this report, the consensus is clear: the livelihoods of those who rely solely on their jobs in the CNMI are in jeopardy once the touchback rule comes into effect in October this year.

There are hundreds if not thousands of foreign workers in the CNMI that are facing possible long periods of waiting and loss of income due to the touchback provision of the Northern Mariana Islands U.S. Workforce Act (Public Law 115-218), that requires employers to send their foreign workers back to their home countries as they wait for their work visas to be renewed.

The livelihoods of breadwinners who consider the CNMI their second home will surely be impacted, but this will likely also lead to a loss of valuable skills for businesses and government operations that rely on a huge chunk of Commonwealth-Only Transitional Workers (CW-1). Many of the affected workers are fearful for themselves and their families, but many are also exploring other options, like going to other countries, or migrating to the U.S. mainland.

Rica Lozarito, a beautician at Mary’s Salon in Garapan, who arrived on Saipan in 2014, said that having to leave again will affect her income. “I’m the breadwinner of my family and if I stay in the Philippines for how many months without a job, it will be bad for me and them.”

The 47-year-old said that Saipan is already her second home. “I don’t want to leave, but I have to. My thoughts on this touchback rule is that it’s not good for people just trying to feed themselves and their families back home. They’ve been working here for many years and, at the end of the day, it’s like it’s nothing when they go back.”

She is optimistic though, that she can find work as a beautician elsewhere, as “beauticians are in demand all over the world,” she said. “And if I can’t come back here, maybe I’ll go back to Dubai again.”

Alex Kabiling, also a beautician at Perfect Image salon in Gualo Rai, has been in the CNMI for almost 20 years but is a CW-1 worker. He said he is worried about making enough money before going home. He sends money to his elderly father twice a month. About going back home, he said “I’m sad, but it’s going to happen, so what can I do? If there’s a chance, then please don’t let it happen so we can stay longer.”

He added, “We’re worried because we don’t know what’s going to happen. If we’ll stay long in the Philippines, of course we need to find work, but it’s much harder to find a job there. I’m used to Saipan already. This is my second home.”

Danilo Talenio, however, is actually ready to go back home. Talenio, a cook at Himawari Restaurant who arrived on Saipan on May 11, 2019, said that going back to Pangasinan in the Philippines will allow him to just focus on his fishing business in his hometown. He said he will, however, miss his coworkers and friends on Saipan.

Another foreign worker, who asked that he not be named, said this might actually be the motivation he needs to look for a job elsewhere, especially since he also have job offers in Australia and Canada.

Rommel Ramos, a cook at Himawari Restaurant since 2016 from Bulacan, Philippines, said in Tagalog that he is sad and worried about the touchback. “I’m not ready to leave as I don’t have enough savings,” he said. “I’m the breadwinner of my family as my wife is a housewife and my children are still in school, so it’s hard to be the only one working.”

He said the touchback rule will negatively impact his livelihood as one, he provides for his family, and two, he is not ready to leave and hopes that he will have more time before leaving for his hometown.

Michaela Panganiban, from Laguna, Philippines, who works in Information Technology for the L&T Group of Companies, is also the breadwinner of her family. She feels “sad and happy at the same time” about the touchback rule—sad that she’s leaving Saipan because “you have to save money for the fare, expenses, etc.,” and happy that she’s going to see her family again.

But she is also not ready to leave because of the expenses of leaving and of not having a job for an undetermined number of days or months. Panganiban’s daughter, mom, aunt, and cousin all live here and she would have to bring her daughter, who is a CW-2, with her back to the Philippines when she leaves.

“We have to be separated again and I have to stop working. Work is important to me since I’m a single mom and I’m the one taking care of my daughter’s needs and everything,” she said about the negative impact of leaving.

Marjorie Del Rosario, a restaurant server, has been in the CNMI since April 2016. A native of Bulacan, Philippines, she said she is not ready to leave as she is the bread winner of her family.

“It’s not only me who will be affected by this touchback, but my family too, especially my parents. They’re old already and don’t work. I’m the only one supporting them since my other siblings have their own families too. That’s why if ever I need to leave because of the touchback, I don’t have any idea what will happen to us, given that we need to stay for a long time in our country to wait for my paper to be approved again.”

There is a sliver of hope for foreign workers in the CNMI. Earlier this month, Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (D-MP) introduced a legislation—H.R. 1420—that will delay the “touchback provision” of Public Law 115-218 for three years.

Even with that, most foreign workers do not want to rely on “maybes” because, as they said, what’s certain is that once they leave for their home countries—which they left in the first place in search of better opportunities—their livelihoods would be severely impacted in a negative way.

Leigh Gases
Leigh Gases is the youngest reporter of Saipan Tribune and primarily covers community related news, but she also handles the utilities, education, municipal, and veterans beats. Contact Leigh at

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