Monday, April 14, 2008

TWA's and Tax Season

Many foreign workers in the CNMI are concerned about preserving some legal status during the transition from CNMI-controlled immigration to the federalized, U.S. immigration system. No one is exactly sure how long the implementation of the U.S. immigration will take, but the plan does have delays built into it, and it takes time to write and adopt regulations.

In the meantime, more and more foreign workers are facing loss of status.

2007 Unity March, photo by W. L. Doromal

The following information is my understanding based on a conversation with private attorney Alexis Fallon. As noted in our sidebar, nothing in this column is intended to be legal advice. With that said, this might be worth checking out for those foreign workers who have lost or face losing their legal status before the full benefits of U.S. immigration are realized.

1. TWA's, that is temporary work authorizations, are available to those who have legitimate pending legal cases. A manufactured claim isn't going to work.
But you may already be part of one of two on-going class actions, and thus eligible for a TWA, even if you have already lost employment or other basis for legal status. Both legal cases relate to taxes, the bane of most workers. This time, the tax system, and its problems, may help and give you foreign workers a right to a TWA.

2. Basically, in the CNMI we have chapter 2 tax (which is a local tax) and chapter 7 tax (which is our federal tax). We get rebates on chapter 2.
Did you earn more than $5,800 in any year from about 2002 on? If the answer is yes, did you file a tax return? If yes, you should have gotten some rebate, even a small one. Did the CNMI pay it to you on time. If the answer to this last question is no (either you didn't get it, or you didn't get it on time), you are part of one of the class action cases pending in court right now. You may be eligible for a TWA.
3. In the CNMI, permanent residents and U.S. citizens pay FICA, which is tax for Social Security and Medicare. Foreign workers generally are exempt from FICA.

Did you have FICA (sometimes noted as social security or medicare) deducted from your check? If you did, you are part of a different class action case pending in court right now. You may be eligible for a TWA.

How do you claim the benefit of being part of these class actions? One way (not necessarily the only way) is to contact the attorney, Alexis Fallon, who is handling them. Even if you are part of the class, she charges $150 to help get the TWA.

The benefit of having a legal status as the CNMI transitions from local control to federal immigration is that you have a better chance of securing some long-term U.S. benefit (like residency). Right now, there are no guarantees and no permanent residency built into the law. But there is a requirement for a study during the transition. And hope.

As always, if you have questions about anything you read on this blog, or have legal issues of your own, consult an attorney.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

On the importance of taking time to reflect

MLSC Marianas Office had its annual "burn out" day at Managaha on Friday 4/4/2008. This is a time when we, as an office, have a picnic for an entire work day. It isn't all fun and games; we actually work.
We start with our general weekly staff meeting.
We review every new application for assistance (intake) and gauge whether the applicant is qualified for our services (meets income and asset eligibility criteria) and determine whether the case fits within our priorities. Our first priority is to the clients on cases we have already accepted. Sometimes this means that we cannot take a new case on, no matter how eligible and meritorious the case. And for those cases we do accept, we assign to one of the case handlers in the office.
Then we get to the real reason for our retreat. We take turns expressing our opinons about what we've done right during the past year, what problems we've encountered, what we want to do or do better on during the coming year, and how we're going to tackle these goals.
And then we barbecue, eat, swim, walk around the island, chat, relax.
There's something very rejuvenating about these retreats. The hectic day-in, day-out pace of work gets put into perspective. We can enjoy each other's company without the pressure of jobs that need urgent attention. We can see what our work means and how we can help our community by doing it.

A few photos:

The blue lagoon (from the boat).

Managaha-still beautiful.

Our newest staff: secretary Juanette Sablan

Frank Rogopes (1984 to present)

Omar Calimbas (2006-present)

Lolita Nazaire (2006-present)

Ed Peterson with wife Nenita (2007-present)

The whole gang-almost. (I've cropped myself out of the photo for aesthetic reasons! Maria P. Muna is off-island so missed the Managaha trip.)

In the shade of the pala-pala.

On the tour boat back to Saipan.