The stranded Turkish workers of Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC are deeply concerned as their visas will expire on Jan. 30, according to House Committee on Gaming chair Rep. Edwin K. Propst (D-Saipan) yesterday.
Propst said in a Facebook post that, once the visas expire, these workers will be considered illegal and overstayers and this will prevent them from ever getting future work in the United States or any of its territories.
The lawmaker did not specify how many Turkish workers have expiring visas. It was reported last month, though, that there are 28 complaining Turkish H-2B workers and nine Italian H-2B workers.
Last month, over 30 Turkish and Italians H2B workers held a peaceful protest over IPI’s alleged non-payment of their salaries and other promised benefits, at IPI’s Human Resources office along Isa Drive in Sadog Tasi.
As of press time yesterday, Saipan Tribune was still awaiting comments from IPI.
Propst said the Turkish workers are legitimate, highly skilled workers who have been all over the world and have even worked in U.S. military bases, including in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq.
“What do all of these workers have in common? In all their lives of working all around the world, they have never been neglected and treated so poorly,” the lawmaker said.
Propst said that Monday’s meeting with IPI’s stranded guest workers was an emotional one, with the lawmakers giving these workers some donations. Propst said all the donations collected and dropped off were made possible through the support of community members from both the CNMI and the U.S. mainland.
He said all donated canned goods and supplies were shared with the workers staying at Vestcor and Queens apartments.
Propst said the Turkish construction workers were given $500 worth of gift certificates and a $100 gift card to shop at Joeten and Joeten Superstore, as they have a restricted food diet and it is best they choose their own food items for themselves.
He said there are more goods and donations that would be dropped yesterday (Tuesday).
Propst said he, House Speaker Edmund S. Villagomez (Ind-Saipan), and their colleagues at the House spent time talking to each group about their plight.
“To have no electricity, no water, no income…they have essentially been abandoned by IPI and rely on the kindness of our community members,” he said.
As to why they don’t just leave the CNMI, Propst said they want to go back to their home countries but, before they leave, they must be paid the salaries they are owed and IPI must pay for their plane tickets. The lawmaker said if the workers don’t get paid before they leave, they will never get paid.
“How do I know this? Because I am still in touch with a previous group of workers who returned to their homes back in September and October of last year, all of whom were promised they would be wired the money they are owed once they returned to their country of origin. To date, none of them has received a penny,” Propst said.
He said he, Villagomez, and colleagues will continue to assist in this situation, which he described as a “humanitarian crisis” affecting these workers.
He said they will be meeting with IPI, the Commonwealth Casino Commission, the U.S. Department of Labor, and CNMI Labor regarding these stranded workers. “Our goal is simple: Get them paid and return them home to reunite with their families. Nothing less will do,” Propst said.
The lawmaker stressed that they have not forgotten the plight of local workers who are still owed salaries by IPI. He said they are meeting with several of the local workers and will continue to push for their owed wages as well.
He said they will continue to do what they can and must focus on the most basic needs of everyone living on the islands and that begins with access to food, water, and shelter.
“Helping others is what we are known for in our beloved Commonwealth. Let us continue to reach out and help out whenever and however we can,” Propst said.