Employers say contract workers abandoning contracts; Using Palau as stepping stone to getting U.S. visas

Several employers in Palau complain that many foreign workers have abandoned their contracts in Palau after getting visas to the United States from the U.S. Embassy in Palau.

They claim that obtaining U.S. visas from the U.S. Embassy in Palau is much easier for the Philippine contract workers than getting U.S. visas from U.S. Embassy in the Philippines. As such, they say, the contract workers are getting employment in Palau with no intention of completing their contracts but merely as means to get a U.S. visa in Palau.

“I’ve lost the workers in my beauty salon to the U.S. because they have been able to obtain visas here,” a local business owner with multiple companies said. “Hiring workers from the Philippines is so difficult now, creating a big problem for me.”

Another large company says they have lost about 30 to 40 employees that have abandoned their contracts after obtaining U.S. visas.

The employers have raised the issue to their congressmen, resulting in a letter from Senate President Hokkons Baules and House Speaker Sabino Anastacio to the U.S. Charge ‘D Affairs James Boughner at the U.S Embassy in Palau.

The letter states that “a large number of foreign workers have left their contracts in Palau because they were granted visas to the United States.” It added that the loss “creates a significant burden” to business owners and is “counterproductive to the goals of the Compact of Free Association.”

OEK, in the letter, said that Palau “relies upon foreign workers, mostly from the Philippines and Bangladesh, … and it is costly to businesses to recruit these workers to Palau.  When workers depart before their contracts expire,” it has a damaging impact on the economy. 

Palau congress asked the U.S. Charge’D Affairs to review its policies on granting visas for foreign workers currently under contract in Palau and have them apply for U.S. visas from their home countries.

In an interview with Island Times, Frohnmayer said that the U.S. Embassy in Palau only grants Non-Immigrant visas designed for short-term stays such as tourism, business meeting, or university studies.  The non-immigrant visa does not allow a person to work in the United States, and to do so would be in violation of U.S. laws.

“Our process for interviewing applicants for non-immigrant visas is the same process worldwide. Consular officer interview on a case-by-case basis and adjudicate based on Immigration and Naturalization Act, laws, and other regulation,” Frohnmayer explained.

Furthermore, he said, “It is the policy of the United States that non-immigrant visa applicants worldwide can apply for a visa interview at any U.S. Embassy or Consulate where they are physically present and where there are appointments available.  So it is not a requirement for an applicant from another country to return to their home country to apply.”

The non-immigrant visa applicants are evaluated based on financial, social and familial ties, stated Frohnmayer. 

Although a non-immigrant visa is a short-termed visa intended for tourists or studies, Frohnmayer said that U.S. law states that any non-immigrant visa applicant is expected to be an intended immigrant and therefore, the bar is quite high, or the scrutiny of the applicant is more in-depth.

Yet, employers say many of the contract workers who have received U.S. non-immigrant visas have low-paying jobs in Palau and that it doesn’t make sense they can afford a vacation in the United States.

One consular officer interviews applicants at the U.S. Embassy, and decides whether applicants can obtain a visa or not. 

The interviewer can put notes on the application for review by higher-ups, but he makes the final decision.

U.S. Embassy in Palau does not grant Immigrant visas, which are designed to reunite families, and requires a family member in the United States to petition for them to come to the United States. These usually take years to obtain approval for, depending on the country status of the applicant. U.S. Charge ‘D Affairs James Boughner is currently off-island and has not seen the letter, according to the US Embassy Jason Frohnmayer, Public Diplomacy Officer, Consular Chief. Charge’D Affairs Boughner will review the letter when he returns next week and respond, said Frohnmayer.