Foreign fishermen
barred from isles

INS officials are not letting
workers with transit visas
enter, worrying longliners

By Genevieve A. Suzuki

Immigration and Naturalization Service officials are no longer allowing foreign longline fishermen with transit visas into Hawaii, said Immigration District Director Donald A. Radcliffe.

Several Filipino fishermen were refused entry into the United States at Honolulu Airport on Monday, said Nic Musico, a member of the civil rights organization Filipino Coalition for Solidarity.

The action raises problems for the longline fishing industry, which relies on about 300 foreign fishermen, most of them Filipino, making up about 60 percent of the workers, said Hawaii Longline Association general manager Scott Barrows. "Supplying crew for the boats could be a problem. It would cause a slowdown," he said.

The Hawaii immigration office is waiting for guidelines from the Washington, D.C., office as to how to further enforce the law. Radcliffe doesn't rule out arresting violators who will then have to attend a removal hearing before an immigration judge.

At issue is the type of visa the Filipino fishermen are using.

Radcliffe said the immigration service believes that transit visas, obtained through the U.S. consulates, were easy to get in the past. For the fishermen to stay and work in the United States, they would have to apply for temporary work visas, which would allow them to live here for six years, according to Radcliffe.

The transit visa implies that the holder is just passing through. "You don't transit to the United States and then don't leave," Radcliffe said.

Radcliffe said the action is not related to the INS stricter polices since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. "For quite some time we've thought this practice is not legal and seems to be escalating," Radcliffe said.

Radcliffe said temporary work visas aren't more expensive than transit visas, but require more paperwork and time because the applicants must prove there is a shortage of workers in their field of employment.

Applicants for temporary work visas need to go through three agencies: the U.S. Department of Labor, INS and the U.S. consulate. Transit visas only require a visit to a U.S. consulate.

Radcliffe said, "The difficulty is showing the Department of Labor there are insufficient American workers."

But Barrows said, "A lot of it has to do with not finding enough workers in the state."

Musico said the immigration office's actions may negatively affect the longline industry because foreign fishermen, working through one-year contracts, are willing to work for relatively inexpensive wages at about $400 to $500 a month.

"We might lose the overseas Philippines contract workers," Musico said.

Barrows said the industry may try to seek an exemption that allows Guam to bring in foreigners to work in its longline fleet.

Radcliffe said the foreign fishermen haven't concealed their intentions to work on longline fishing vessels. "They've been open and honest with us," Radcliffe said.

Musico said: "I'm a little bit concerned. The question is why, all of a sudden, is the immigration office not allowing them to work?"

There are four agents who recruit longline fishermen from the Philippines for U.S. boats, Musico said. "It should have been easy to tell them that the fishermen won't be able to work," he said.

Barrows said longline owners usually pay for travel arrangements, food and lodging.

"I've talked to some of the Filipino guys and they really like being here," Barrows said. "The money is really good for them."

Musico said the fishermen who were sent back were especially worried about the money they won't earn to help pay their children's college tuition. "Poor families in the Philippines invest a lot of money into education," Musico said.

Barrows said the foreign fishermen come to the islands with the skills needed to work in longline fishing.

"One of the problems is there hasn't been a new (local) crew trained in a long time," said Barrows, who has been a longline fisherman since 1974. "It's really hard work, and you have to continuously train them.

"The thing about fishing is it's not a guaranteed income. It's kind of a lifestyle rather than a job."

Immigration and Naturalization Service

E-mail to City Desk


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