NORTHERN MARIANAS PLANS TIGHTER PRE-SCREENING PROCEDURES FOR FOREIGN WORKERS

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By Benhur C. Saladores

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (August 26, 1999 – Saipan Tribune)---In a swift response to a recommendation from a key U.S. congressional staff member visiting the CNMI, the Senate is expected to pass a proposed measure to establish a Washington-approved list of foreign individuals and agencies that will screen guest workers seeking entry into the Commonwealth.

Offered by Senate Floor Leader Pete P. Reyes, the legislation responds to concerns raised by Manase Mansur, Adviser on Insular and International Affairs to the U.S. House Resources Committee, during his recent meetings with local officials.

The proposal is one of a few crucial bills that senators hope to pass during their session this afternoon. (Another bill to be considered would authorize the Commissioner of Education to expend capital improvement project funds designated for public school system improvement.)

Senate President Paul A Manglona said Reyes' bill is in line with Mansur's suggestion of a pre-screening system for alien workers intending to come to the island. It is patterned after procedures followed by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Mansur, Chief Aide to House Resources Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska), has been on the island since Saturday, briefing local leaders on the forthcoming oversight hearings to take place in Washington, D.C. about current conditions in the Northern Marianas.

The panel, which has jurisdiction over the CNMI and other insular areas, has scheduled the first meeting for September 16, at which time island officials are expected to lobby for federal assistance to enforce local labor and immigration laws.

Under Senate Bill 11-153, the local Department of Labor and Immigration "shall come up with a limited list of persons, agencies and entities in foreign countries from which it will accept police and health clearance or certification on any contract worker applying for a job on the island."

This list must include all persons, agencies and entities approved by the U.S. Department of State, the Department of Justice and the INS "for comparable purposes."

Another list may be accepted by the Commonwealth provided that these individuals and agencies get approval from the State Secretary or the Attorney General.

Reyes justified his proposal, saying the island government has encountered serious problems with fraudulent health clearance and criminal background checks obtained in foreign countries.

These are documents required under CNMI laws that guest workers must submit to support applications for entry and work permits here.

According to the legislature, it is imperative that such clearances be provided only from "reputable and reliable sources," to safeguard the public health and safety of CNMI citizens.

To ensure that the list is acceptable, the proposal will endorse the ones used by federal agencies to check police and health records before clearing any foreign national seeking entry into the United States.

"These U.S. certifications provide a good foundation for determining sources the Commonwealth immigration and labor authorities can accept with confidence," according to the bill.

It added that enactment of such a law will address "weaknesses in current practice arising from too liberal acceptance of foreign clearances" and strengthen local immigration control by restricting them only to those obtained from preapproved agencies.

The forthcoming legislation is part of labor and immigrations reforms proposed by the Tenorio administration in efforts to thwart federal takeover of these currently local functions.

For additional reports from The Saipan Tribune, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Saipan Tribune.

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