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Federalization effort is moving forward

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Nov 27, 2008 ) – While details are starting to emerge about other major changes under the Commonwealth's soon-to-be federalized immigration system, little remains known about the U.S. government's plans for the CNMI's foreign workers during the transition period.

The U.S Department of Homeland Security, in a "semi-annual regulatory" plan issued earlier this week, said only that the federal government, as required by law, will assume responsibility for visas for entry to the CNMI by nonresident workers.

The regulatory abstract also indicated that there will be no chance of change to the provisions for foreign workers. "This rule is required by statute and alternatives were not considered," states the document, which appeared on the federal government's www.regulations.gov website on Tuesday.

The DHS document further revealed that a US$320 annual fee will be collected from each of the estimated 22,000 CNMI-only workers during the transition period. It did not offer details about the fees.

Further, the document acknowledged that the effect of the rule on the CNMI economy is "uncertain at this point." Citing the Senate report of the immigration act, the document said that the risks to homeland security, which result from "the lack of integrity in the CNMI immigration system," are the main driver for the legislation.

Under the Consolidated Natural Resources Act, which provides for the federal takeover of local immigration, a CNMI-only work permit program will be in effect during the transition period. This program can be extended indefinitely by the U.S. Secretary of Labor for up to five years at a time.

In addition to being able to hire "transitional" workers, employers in the CNMI and Guam can petition for foreign workers under the federal nonimmigrant H visa process, without limitation by established numerical caps.

However, after the transition period ends, all foreign workers in the CNMI must be under the federal visa system. H visas will no longer be available for workers in continuous, rather than temporary, low-skill positions.

During and after the transition period, CNMI employers can also petition for employment-based permanent immigration status for workers under the same procedures as other U.S. employers.

The Fitial administration is contesting the labor provisions of the immigration act in the U.S. courts. The administration has a pending request for the court to stop the DHS and the U.S. Department of Labor from implementing the provisions. Saipan Tribune http://www.saipantribune.com

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