Local business owner alleges Immigration illegally transferred sponsorship
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A local businesswoman who is stranded off island due to the COVID-19 pandemic has questioned the actions by the American Samoa Immigration Office to transfer sponsorship for one of her employees without her approval while the employee’s immigration identification (I.D) is still valid until Mar. 03, 2021.
Calling the action by the Immigration Office “unlawful and illegal”, the businesswoman, Leilani Laban has sought assistance from Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga and members of his American Samoa COVID-19 Task Force in regards to this matter.
Mrs. Laban, owner of the G.R.A.C.E.S (Grandville Refrigeration Air Condition Electrical Services) has been stranded in Hawai’i since mid-February and is waiting for the first flight to return back home.
The employee, who is in the middle of this matter, was brought in to the territory and sponsored by Mrs. Laban’s business under the “Special Provision” designation three years ago. The employee has a valid immigration ID with the “SP status”.
However, a few weeks ago, Mrs. Laban was informed by family members that the employee has applied for a job at another local company, and as a result, a representative from that company went to the Attorney General’s Office asking for a chance to transfer the sponsorship from Mrs. Laban.
An Immigration officer then transferred the employee’s sponsorship without Mrs. Laban’s approval and knowledge, and the employee now has a new immigration ID with a “P5 status”, which is set to expire in Sept. 10, 2021.
Mrs. Laban is questioning the procedure of transferring sponsorship of immigrants who are under “special provision”.
She told Samoa News that the Immigration office never informed her about the situation until she contacted them and questioned them about the reason why they transferred her employee’s sponsorship.
“When I contacted the Immigration office regarding this matter, they told me that the reason why they transferred the sponsorship was because the employee has already applied for another job from another local company, and the employee can not work unless his immigration status is changed from the “SP status” to “P5 status,” Mrs. Laban said.
Her understanding of the immigration laws, is that once the immigrant who was brought in under the Special Provision” does not want to work for the company who sponsored him/ her, the immigrant must depart the territory before he/ she can come back under a new sponsorship.
According to Mrs. Laban, this process was never followed with the employee who is in the middle of this matter. Instead, Immigration, through its authority transferred the sponsorship without informing her — the sponsor and owner of the company.
Mrs. Laban left American Samoa in mid-February after she heard the news about the spread of the coronavirus in the United States and around the world, with the purpose of bringing back home her parents and her daughter who were in Washington. However, while she was away, the border was closed and Mrs. Laban and her family have been stranded in Hawaii since that time.
She was informed by her family in the territory that her employee’s immigration status was changed from the “SP status” to the “P5 status” after the Immigration Office granted the transfer of sponsorship without her approval.
“I called the Immigration Office and they informed me that the reason why the sponsorship was transferred was because I was not on island and I also abandoned my employee,” Mrs. Laban said in her letter to the governor and members of his Task Force.
Mrs. Laban strongly denied reports that she abandoned her employee and the claim was an effort to find a way to justify the unlawful transfer of sponsorship.
She told Samoa News that the employee, who is in the middle of this matter, received a salary of $10 per hour, with other benefits including a company truck for work and also personal use; he had access to all company resources and was given accommodations rent free.
“All of my employees were not abandoned. They had a job since the day they arrived in American Samoa until today. Our company continues to provide them with jobs and they’re getting paid for their time and work,” Mrs. Laban said.
She added that she already informed the Immigration Office that she would not approve the transfer of her employee’s sponsorship.
“However, when I called the Immigration Office later on last week, an Immigration Officer who answered the phone confirmed to me that my employee’s immigration file was transferred under the Amnesty Program, which I believe that this program ended sometimes about April of this year,” she said.
“Was the process to transfer my employee’s sponsorship conducted according to the immigration laws?” Mrs. Laban asked in her letter, noting that under the Immigration Law- Special Provision, once the employee is no longer working for the company that sponsors he/ she, the immigrant has to return back home for one year before they can be sponsored by another local business.
In her letter to Gov. Lolo and the Task Force, Mrs. Laban stated that she did not expect that her “own government” would do something like this to her and her business.
“I started this business to provide American Samoa the right, truthful, and customer satisfaction service for the areas of air conditioning and refrigeration and electrical that American Samoa needs to minimize the unnecessary spending for unit replacements and repairs when the repairs and maintenance costs can be minimal and performance longevity can be prolonged,” she said in her letter.
Speaking to Samoa News, Mrs. Laban said that she had tried very hard to solve the problem because she doesn’t want her employee to transfer to another local company. She trained him and provided him with the right tools to do his job.
Her family on island including her “second Mom” and her husband visited the Immigration Office in an effort to prevent the transfer of sponsorship but they were told by the Immigration Office that there is nothing they can do because the sponsor is off island and the employee needs to transfer immediately.
“According to the information I received from my family, they were informed by the Immigration Office that a representative from the company who is hiring her employee went straight to the Attorney General Office to request the transfer of sponsorship and the request was granted by the Attorney General.
Mrs. Laban further stated that when she asked one of the immigration officers about it, the officer told her that they could not do anything because the “OK” came from the AG and their office is under the AG’s office.