Governor signs into law three bills

Immigration quota increase, amended immigration quorum, amended tax law
fili@samoanews.com

Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has signed into law three administration bills including legislation that would increase the annual quota of foreigners to apply for permanent residency annually from “50” to “100”.

In signing the bill into law, the governor informed the Fono leaders in a Sept. 15 letter that he appreciates the expeditious review of the legislation.

“By increasing the quota of permanent resident applications that can be approved on an annual basis, and by exemption from the quota those who filed permanent resident status before Dec. 31, 2015,” Lolo said, “this bill will enable the Immigration Office to process a significant number of backlogged permanent resident applications.”

According to the governor, this is a “fair and evenhanded approach to accommodating the requests of deserving individuals who have resided in American Samoa for 20 or more continuous years.”

Attorney General Talauega Eleasalo Ale testified in the Fono during committee hearings that some 690 applicants are on the waiting list for permanent resident status.

In accordance with the constitution, this bill shall become effective 60-days after the end of the session at which is has been passed. This means, this law becomes effective 60-days after the current 4th Regular session closes — which is expected to be Oct. 5th.

DECREASE NO. OF IMMIGRATION BOARD MEMBERS REQUIRED FOR A QUORUM

Also signed into law by the governor on Sept. 15 is another administration bill, which decreases the number of Immigration Board members in attendance for a require quorum.

The bill decreases from 5 to 4 members for a quorum and based on one change made by the Fono, the bill becomes effective once approved by the Fono and signed into law by the governor.

Lolo told the Fono that the Immigration Board has had difficulty in achieving the “super-quorum” requirement of the existing law. He says reducing the quorum “re-establishes a simple majority of the board as necessary to achieve a quorum and this will assist in the board’s ability to timely process the work before it.”

The governor said that having an “immediate effective date” on the bill, will contribute to a more timely and effective experience for people coming before the Immigration board.

ASG witnesses had testified in Fono hearings that the seven-member board has been having difficulty in getting a quorum to conduct its business.

TAX LAW AMENDMENTS

The third bill, signed into law Sept. 9, amends three provisions of local tax laws: links deductions for retirement savings contributions to the federal Internal Revenue Code; reduces the maximum income tax rate on corporations; and removes the exemption for taxes from the obligation to make payment of all fees and debts owing the government before the issuance or renewal of a business license.

In signing this bill into law, the governor says that by linking deductions for retirement savings contributions to the IRC, “we are encouraging greater savings contributions for both government and private sector employees.”

“These greater contributions can lead to greater future income security for the people of American Samoa,” he said.

The new law also reduces the maximum income tax on corporation from 44% to 34%. “While this is only effects corporate income in excess of $650,000 per annum, this will serve as an inducement for existing businesses to further grow their business, and, we are hopeful, to put us on a more level playing field with other island states looking to encourage investments from off-island,” Lolo said.

(ASG Treasurer Uelinitone Tonumaipea told senators that American Samoa has the second highest corporate tax rate in the world.)

“Finally this bill provides the Tax Office with an effective compliance tool, in requiring Tax Office approval for the issuance of new or renewal business licenses,” the governor said.

Provisions of local law state that no business license may be issued unless the applicant has paid all fees and debts, “except taxes” that he/ she may owe the government. The bill deletes the “except taxes”, and Tonumaipea informed senators that this would help the Tax Office collect taxes from businesses that have failed to pay taxes.

In accordance with the constitution, this bill shall become effective 60-days after the end of the session at which it has been passed.

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