Am. Samoa House Approves Amending Foreign Worker Bill

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Proposal to modify requirement for sponsoring businesses

By Joyetter Feagaimaalii-Luamanu

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Oct. 18, 2014) – In a vote of 11- 1 the House approved this week Thursday an administration bill, seeking to amend provisions of current law dealing with businesses sponsoring foreigners to work in their locally based companies.

The House version of the bill, which is one of the issues on the agenda for the Special Session called by the governor, is now pending in the Senate Government Operations Committee for review. A Senate version of the bill is also pending in the same committee.

Current law allows any "partnership" or "corporation" that does business in American Samoa to sponsor foreigners to work in their companies. But the administration is seeking to delete "partnership" from the law.

While it is proposed that "corporations" still be allowed to sponsor foreigners, the administration is proposing restrictions that these businesses must follow.

The bill states that the attorney general must "certify" the business to be a sponsor, and the corporation is required to abide with the following "general requirements" where a corporation must:

These general requirements may be expanded or elaborated upon from time to time through the promulgation of regulations by the Attorney General, according to another amendment in the bill.

Of interest are two other amendments: 1) One makes clear that "no corporation may sponsor an alien who has any control or interest in the sponsoring corporation" and that such persons with control interest "shall include but not (be) limited to alien incorporations, investors, shareholders, directors and officers of any corporation incorporated under the laws of American Samoa." 2) The other deletes in its entirety, a provision in the current statute that allows business sponsorship of persons to be transferred from one employer to another, provided the immigration board is satisfied of the need and of the lack of permanent residents for such employment.

AG’S TESTIMONY

Attorney General Talauega Eleasalo Ale, who testified at the House committee hearing on this bill on Wednesday, said the AG’s office is working on improving many issues pertaining to the Immigration statute, starting with the amnesty program, and this is the second measure, with more changes to come in the future.

He pointed out that this bill is set forth mainly for the small Asian businesses whose people were sponsored by "our people to come work" in the territory, then they invest in their own small companies.

Then they would turn around and have their companies sponsor more people, he explained and quickly added, "This has to stop."

Talauega said it’s unclear how many small foreign businesses are in the territory, but he recalls that there are over 150 companies and they are the ones who use this statute to bring their families to work in their businesses. He noted that this takes away employment opportunities from American Samoans.

Secondly, this bill stops the transferring of sponsorship among the corporations. "They bring in their people and the business is bankrupt — and then they move to another business, and again… it has to stop," he said, and noted that there are huge companies that have invested in American Samoa for many years, and are still entitled to utilize this sponsorship by corporations’ provision of the immigration law.

According to the AG, the current immigration statute is vague and provides minimal direction on the sponsorship of aliens by corporations and this has led to the sponsorship of aliens by corporations in a manner that is inconsistent with the local constitution.

He said the territory would benefit more effectively by controlling and limiting the sponsorship of aliens by companies doing business in the territory.

THE ‘NO’ VOTE

Asked why he voted "no" on the bill, Rep Fagasoaia Leaalaitafea says Samoans do not like to work for a company for a lengthy period and sometimes, once they get paid, they resign and that’s why Asians, who operate many local businesses, bring in their own people who are committed to the job.

"I believe that we should still allow the small businesses to sponsor their own people that they want to bring forth to the island," he told Samoa News. "In many other countries in the world, just like Samoa, a majority of the businesses are owned by the Asians."

He said before any Asian owns a company in the territory, they must go through an American Samoan in order to establish the company. He also made it clear that the Asians pay their taxes, just like every other business in the territory.

Samoa News correspondent Fili Sagapolutele contributed to this report.

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