The lack of transparency and due process in the treatment of retired Filipinos (and other non-local) workers applying for residential visas in Palau is cruel and inhumane, said a Filipino retiree who had worked in Palau for nearly 30 years.
“My Social Security benefit every month is nearly 400 dollars and I have savings. I have been living here under a resident visa for over 2 years but when I apply to renew my visa, they just tell me, not approved. They don’t tell me how much I need to have to be eligible, just “denied! You don’t have enough”. But I have been living here all these times but they tell me now, it is not enough,” an elderly retiree sobbed. Her SS benefit here is her only source of income after having spent nearly half of her adult life working in Palau.
Her story is repeated by others who are worried that they will lose their SS income after 6 months of living abroad as mandated under the Social Security law at this time.
“Based on the review of your application and supporting documents you have submitted to Immigration and the information, I regret to inform you that you have been found ineligible for a Resident Visa…After further review of your application and supporting documents, your application is being denied. Upon expiration of your current working permit that is set to expire on February __, you must leave the ROP and if you overstay, this will mean possible fines or penalties and you will not have an Immigration Status. This will also mean that if you are in the Republic of Palau “illegally”, then you will be barred from returning to the Republic of Palau due to your unlawful presence in the Republic,” states a letter from Immigration to one of the retirees applying for a resident visa.
The law requires that all employees (foreign and local) contribute a percentage of their salary to Social Security for their retirement benefits. But the law also states that a foreign worker that moves abroad for 6 months, will no longer be eligible to receive his or her SS benefits. Unfortunately, when a foreign worker reaches retirement age and no longer works, that worker has no other legal status in Palau unless he or she applies for a resident visa which is renewable every two years. That resident visa, by law, can be issued “at the discretion of the Director”.
S 309. Resident Visa. A Resident Visa may be issued to Aliens at the
discretion of the Director. In granting the Visa, the Director shall consider:
(1) the purpose of the presence of the Alien in the Republic;
(2) whether or not the Alien has Dependents who may lawfully stay in the Republic;
(3) the ability of the Alien to provide support for the Alien; and
(4) other factors relating to the best interests of the Republic. The Visa may be issued for
up to two years.
There are no specific regulations setting eligibility guidelines or criteria for an applicant to comply with.
Nobody knows what makes a person eligible or not eligible. Nobody knows how much money one should have to live in Palau. When a person is denied, they are just told they have been denied because they have been “found ineligible” due to “insufficient funds or financial means”.
The amount of money varies from applicant to applicant. An applicant with a $300 monthly SS benefit and $5k in the bank is told it’s insufficient. Another applicant collecting SS benefits and having a son that has a full-time job and saying he will take care of his mother is also denied.
The system has no due process. A person can apply and may get a response in a week or after 6 months.
The process is tortuous and cruel, especially for people who had been recruited to work in Palau and kept by their employers for decades, only to be thrown out by the government when they no longer have the means to support themselves, claimed another retiree who is afraid to be identified because of a pending application.
Several employers, Palauans who have built relationships with their employees over the decades, attempted to help, offering to take care of the individuals should they need it, but these offers are denied.
In a typical letter to an applicant, the Immigration letter states, “Under the Immigration Regulations., all applicants applying for a resident visa must demonstrate that they have sufficient funds to support themselves during their stay in the Republic of Palau. After further review and discussion with the Office of the Attorney General, this was not the case and grounds for the cancellation of your Resident Visa was due to the lack of insufficient funds or financial means to support yourself. In addition, the law does not require sponsorship from any other person(s) in order for you to remain in Palau and your application is therefore denied.”
“While the law does not allow for sponsorship, there are a number of ways to prove an applicant’s financial sufficiency regardless of whether it’s a resident visa or another other type of visa, to include work visas, and this may include a personal bank statement indicating their financial movements, tax statements and other sources of income that they are receiving at the moment of application. Implicitly the amount of financial means, or means of subsistence, is regulated on an individual or case-by-case basis,” stated the response from the Director of Immigration John Tarkong Jr.
Furthermore, he said that some of the considerations they take into account in determining the eligibility “may be a concern that has to do with the health conditions that might pose a significant cost or demands on the applicant and/or Palau’s health services and whether the applicant is able to cover their medical costs while living in Palau. Whether an applicant is able to live and remain in Palau and have the financial means to be repatriated are issues that have been raised in the past.”
“Palau does not have a welfare system. It is not like these people are going to take the welfare benefits away from the Palauans, like in the US where people can take advantage of the welfare system. Also, all of these are not stated anywhere. There are no guidelines. We don’t know if these are applied to everyone or as they say “case by case”. The process is not transparent and it is ripe for abuse,” claimed Tamara Hutzler, a private attorney.
“There need to be changes in the law and more transparent regulations. Either pay these people out when they finish their work here or stop collecting SS from their salaries. And specify how much money they need to have to live in Palau and a process that is transparent for everyone. What is being done now is not acceptable and is cruel,” said a local businessman who offered his support to one of the applicants but was denied.
Meanwhile, several applicants have been given only 30 days to leave the country after their applications have been denied. (By: L.N. Reklai)