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Immigration Chief testifies to 800+ overstayers here; most from Samoa

fili@samoanews.com

Chief Immigration Officer Ufuti Fa’afetai Ieremia estimates that there are some 800-plus overstayers in the territory and says the Immigration computer system that tracks movements in and out of our borders needs more than $200,000 to maintain and upgrade the system.

Ufuti made the comments when responding to questions last Friday from senators, during a Senate Homeland Security & Public Safety Committee hearing on a House bill that would subject the sponsors of foreigners, who are present in the territory beyond their permitted time, to a fine.

According to the measure, the fine for individual sponsors will be $10 per day while corporation or business sponsors are to be fined $100 per day.

Revenues collected under this proposal would be placed in a separate account to be appropriated for capital improvement projects or for the government’s required matching portion of such funds.

Ufuti, who testified along side his boss Attorney General Fepuleai A. Ripley Jr, told lawmakers that while the Immigration Office does not have the actual count of overstayers currently in the territory, he did estimate that the number of overstayers is between 800 and 1,000. (Ufuti testified in the House last September that the total number of overstayers was around 1,400.)

He also testified that the majority of overstayers are from neighboring Samoa and that in December every year, about 500 of them depart the territory, thereby reducing the number of overstayers.

Responding to committee questions, Fepuleai said his only suggestion to the proposed measure is to have the revenues collected from the fines to be deposited into a special sponsorship of a foreign worker account to assist the Immigration Office with maintenance and upgrading of the immigration computer system, which was first installed in 2004.

Fepuleai and Ufuti both stated that this system has been very useful in tracking the movement of foreigners in and out of the territory. They say maintaining the system is very important, as well as upgrading it ever year, or when it’s necessary.

Ufuti estimated the cost annually for maintaining and upgrading the system to be at $250,000, saying that this is only an estimate. Fepuleai added that his office is preparing to work with the Procurement Office to put out a notice inviting bidders to submit the cost of such an upgrade, and it’s only at that time when he will know exactly the cost of a total upgrade.

Fepuleai said one of the causes of the large number of overstayers in the territory is due to people coming here on a 30-day permit, and the sponsor files papers with the Immigration Office seeking authorization for these people to live and work in the territory. These individuals are supposed to return to their home country once the 30-day permit expires, but in most cases, the person stays in the territory beyond 30 days, he said.

Sen. Fuata Dr. T. Iatala says he believes that a special provision of immigration law allowing company sponsorship of foreigners to work here is causing immigration problems for the territory. For example, he points out that some foreigners end up working as cashiers, while special provisions of the law allow foreigners to work in the territory for jobs hard to fill by the local workforce.

He suggested ending this provision as well as ending another provision that allows companies to transfer sponsorship from one company to another company.

Fepuleai agrees with putting a stop to current law allowing the transfer of an individual’s sponsorship from one company to another. He also believes in limiting the number of foreigners staying in the territory who are sponsored by companies. For example, if the person’s contract expires within two years time, that individual should return to their home country.

Ufuti did point out that companies are very good when it comes to returning foreigners to their home country once a sponsorship is terminated. He said companies want to make sure that the foreigner leaves right away.

At the end of the hearing, the committee opted to wait for any amendments to the bill before a final decision is reported to the full Senate for a decision.

Problems with the Immigration Offices’ bond account and its current status was briefly mentioned during the hearing, as still being audited by the Internal Audit Office of the government. In past Immigration department hearings, the account was said to have record reconciliation problems.



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