BARELY 20% OF CNMI FOREIGN WORKERS SUBMIT PETITIONS

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Last minute filings not accounted for yet

By Haidee V. Eugenio SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Dec. 1, 2011) – A total of just 1,458 CW petitions for 2,759 foreign workers were received by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services as of Nov. 25, barely three days before the Nov. 28 cutoff.

This is only 21 percent of the 13,399 foreign workers in the CNMI who are "potentially eligible" for Form I-129CW petitions, as stated in the final worker rule published in September.

"Undoubtedly, it is far below what we had anticipated," said press secretary Angel Demapan.

He said it is difficult to ascertain the reason for such low figures, although the Fitial administration believes the main reason is that USCIS – a component agency of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security – "waited so long" to come up with the final worker regulations.

"It could be a result of various factors such as a decline in private employers, restrictions on households being able to employ domestic helpers and farmers, but most of all, we believe the largest reason for the dismal preliminary data is the fact that USCIS waited so long to come up with regulations, policies, and processing guidelines. This was one of the reasons why the Fitial administration adamantly pushed for a much earlier release of the CW regulations," Demapan told Saipan Tribune.

DHS published the CNMI transitional worker classification final rule in the Sept. 7 Federal Register.

The final rule came into effect on Oct. 7, and deadline for CW filing for uninterrupted employment was Nov. 28. A lawsuit has been filed, asking the court to stop DHS from enforcing the rule for at least 180 days from Nov. 28.

Gov. Benigno R. Fitial sued the federal government over federalization. But attorney Steve Woodruff said DHS waited 22 months after the interim final rule was enjoined by a federal judge in November 2009 before issuing the final rule in September 2011.

USCIS regional media manager Sharon Rummery said yesterday that through Nov. 25, the California Service Center had data entered for 1,458 I-129CW petitions.

She said this figure does not include unprocessed petitions that were received late last week.

As of Friday, there were 678 petitions that were received but whose data have yet to be entered.

"A total of 2,759 CW-1 workers are sponsored on the petitions that have been data entered," Rummery told Saipan Tribune.

The petitions that have been data entered were filed by 454 employers.

Because the petitions are still under initial review and USCIS has not issued any denial notices, there is still no data on denial.

Earlier, USCIS said there were about a dozen rejected but this meant that employers could correct their submission mistakes for consideration.

Form I-129CW is the form used by an employer to petition USCIS for an alien who is ineligible for another employment-based nonimmigrant classification to work as a nonimmigrant in the CNMI temporarily as a CW-1 transitional worker.

Richard Pierce, executive director of the Saipan Chamber of Commerce, said the Chamber is "not really" surprised with the latest numbers.

He said given the long lines at post offices on Monday, he would hope that the numbers given by USCIS "will double, maybe triple, by the time all applications are received at USCIS in California."

"That’s still a week of mail time remaining. If those numbers don’t rise appreciably, we’re looking at an attrition rate harsher than I believe anyone has anticipated. We estimated it would take three to five years for the closure of an entire industry to show itself in employment, population, and business activity," he said.

Up until Nov. 28, some employers were rushing to mail CW petitions for their foreign workers, although employers could still file after Nov. 28 but the employees covered cannot work until the CW petitions are granted.

Jun Concilliado, manager of NCIC, a construction firm, said they waited for the last minute to file a CW-1 petition for one of their foreign workers, hoping for action on Delegate Gregorio Kilili Sablan’s (Ind-MP) H.R. 1466 or USCIS’ release of instructions for a one-year parole for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens and certain stateless individuals.

Nov. 28 came and went, but HR 1466 was not acted on by the U.S. House of Representatives, nor has USCIS issued instructions on how to file for parole that will be valid until Dec. 31, 2012.

When USCIS saw that as of Nov. 4, only 366 workers had been petitioned by CNMI employers, it held at least six sessions for employers on the filing of Form I-129CW, to help as many employers as possible fill out the form in petitioning their foreign employees ahead of the deadline.

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