CNMI Governor Requests Whitehouse Extend Commonwealth Worker Program

Long-time guest workers have contributed greatly to development: Torres 

By Dennis B. Chan 

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, June 9, 2016) – Gov. Ralph DLG Torres urged the White House this week to support improved status for long-term guest workers in the Commonwealth, signaling a shift in position and an official endorsement for the granting of permanent lawful residency for many of these foreign workers who call the CNMI their home, Saipan Tribune learned yesterday.

Torres made the request during the first round of “Section 902” talks between federal and local officials in the nation’s capitol.

The request was also formalized in a position paper finalized and presented to these officials in Washington, D.C., in which Torres made, among other short-term solutions, a long-term recommendation that these workers—some who have lived and worked in the Commonwealth from five to 30 years—be granted a “permanent status,” Saipan Tribune learned yesterday.

That request for status was not included in earlier drafts of the position paper but was finalized after further discussion among officials of the 902 team in the nation’s capitol this week, Saipan Tribune learned.

Saipan Tribune learned that the position paper touted a Department of Interior report in 2010 in which the Interior submitted a report recommending to Congress that it explore various options—like the conferral of U.S. citizenship to alien workers, and the granting of permanent resident status to workers that had resided in the CNMI for a minimum of five years, among other options—in order to grant some kind of lawful permanent residency for foreign workers.

Saipan Tribune learned that the position paper—which detailed the CNMI’s economic plight, recovery, and need for these workers to continue revenue growth—suggested that permanent status would help alleviate the adverse effects of what Congress promised it would minimize in passing the law that effected the federal takeover of local immigration and mandated an end to a the contract worker program, which expires in 2019.

More meetings

Following the 902 talks, Torres also met with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Leon Rodriguez to discuss, among others, the forced departure of long term guest workers who will not be able to renew due to the numerical limitation on contract worker permits being reached this fiscal year.

“Guest workers in the CNMI have played a crucial role in the development of the CNMI. Due to administrative policies regarding the processing of permits, many who have called the CNMI home for decades, some who have us citizen children, will be forced to leave in a unreasonable period of 10 days,” Torres said in a statement.

“How do you uproot the life you have built throughout 20 years, in 10 days? There are serious humanitarian concerns involved here and I am doing what I can to make all federal officials I meet aware of this,” he said.

Torres also met with U.S Sens. Lisa Murkowski, Brian Schatz, and Maria Cantwell along with Rep. Rob Bishop, and Minority Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer to discuss the importance of providing immediate relief to contract workers in the CNMI and the need for long-term remedies for the CNMI labor force.

USCIS clarification on cap

As this developed, USCIS issued a notice to “clarify” that although extension of stay petitions for current CW-1 workers are counted toward the CW-1 cap, these petitions will be accepted under certain circumstances.

USCIS explained that all CW-1 workers are subject to the cap unless the worker has already been counted toward the cap in the same fiscal year. The U.S. government’s fiscal year begins on Oct. 1 and ends on Sept. 30.

If CW-1 workers were already counted toward the CW-1 cap for FY 2016, meaning that their previous employment start date was on or after Oct. 1, 2015, then their employer can file a petition to change employers or extend CW-1 status in FY 2016, even though the FY 2016 CW-1 cap was reached on May 5, 2016, USCIS said.

“Additionally, we are currently accepting CW-1 petitions requesting an employment start date on or after Oct. 1, 2016, which are counted toward the FY 2017 CW-1 cap,” it said. “We encourage CW-1 employers to file a petition for a CW-1 nonimmigrant worker up to six months in advance of the proposed employment start date, and as early as possible within that timeframe. We will reject a petition if it is filed more than six months in advance.”

What does this mean for the estimated 1,300 affected workers who will have to leave the CNMI through October? Apparently, nothing much.

“The clarification does not change anything we have already known,” immigration lawyer Nelson Xu told Saipan Tribune.

“For those who failed to be included in the FY 2016 cap, their new start day must be after Oct. 1, 2016 for the FY 2017 cap. They have to depart if the expiration date is before Oct. 1, 2016. For those who have been counted toward the FY 2016, they can still change employer or file extension,” he said.

Saipan Tribune
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