May 26, 2016
The USCIS imposed cap of 12,999 CW permits for 2016. It was reached this month, meaning that no more nonresident workers can be hired or renewed this year. That includes nonresident workers whose permits expire later this year. Many of them have lived and worked in the CNMI for 15 or more years.
From the Marianas Variety:
CW-1 workers has already been reached for fiscal year 2016, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will reject CW-1 petitions received after May 5, 2016 and those that request an employment start date before Oct. 1, 2016.
This includes CW-1 petitions for extensions of stay subject to the CW-1 cap. The filing fees will be returned with any rejected CW-1 petition, USCIS said in a media release.
“If an extension petition is rejected, then the beneficiaries listed on that petition are not permitted to work beyond the validity period of the previously approved petition, Therefore, affected beneficiaries, including any CW-2 derivative family members of a CW-1 nonimmigrant, must depart the CNMI within 10 days after the CW-1 validity period has expired, unless they have some other authorization to remain under U.S. immigration law.”
Several private-sector employers are expected to be significantly affected by the USCIS announcement.I spoke to one nonresident worker yesterday by phone. He has lived in the CNMI for 19 years and is beyond despondent and panicked. His permit expires later this year and cannot be renewed because the cap has been met. He stated he will have to leave within ten days of the expiration and has absolutely no home to return to in his home country of Bangladesh. His family is here under separate permits.
Nineteen years is not a temporary gig. Thousands of nonresidents who are impacted by this crisis are truly de facto citizens. They have lived and worked in the CNMI most of their adult lives.
CNMI and U.S. leaders, politicians and officials should accept the blame for the immigration mess in the CNMI. The failure to provide a status provision in the original law was the first huge mistake. Everyone knew that there was not an adequate workforce to replace the tens of thousand of nonresident workers that fueled the CNMI economy.
In the end, selfishness and prejudice won over common sense and the ethical choice. H.R. 3079 passed in 2008 becoming U.S. P. L. 110-229, the Consolidated Natural Resources Act (CNRA). It passed without providing a logical provision for status for the legal, longterm nonresident workers. (Read more about the background and mistakes in this older post.)
There was however, a provision in the bill mandating that the U.S. Department of Interior make a recommendation to the U.S. Congress regarding a secure status for the nonresident workers. The 2010 DOI Report on Status for the CNMI Nonresidents that was mandated in the CNRA, P.L. 110-229 stated:
"Consistent with the goals of comprehensive immigration reform, we recommend that the Congress consider permitting alien workers who have lawfully resided in the CNMI for a minimum period of five years to apply for long-term status under the immigration and nationality laws of the United States."This recommendation provided the perfect opportunity to correct past mistakes and enact critical legislation. A bill would have passed if DOI, Deputy Secretary of Insular Affairs Tony Babauta pushed it and if Delegate Gregorio Sablan had introduced legislation to make the recommendation law. At that time President Obama had both a Democratic House and Senate, so the passage was certain. As often is the case, the CNMI leaders and politicians put their own political careers ahead of justice, democratic principles and humanitarian needs. No bill was introduced.
But enough with looking backwards. What can be done today? The CNMI leaders could introduce legislation to grant temporary CNMI-status to the legal, longterm nonresidents –those who have worked in the CNMI five or more years. This would benefit the CNMI business owners, economy and the nonresidents until a more permanent solution is achieved.
Additionally, Delegate Sablan could introduce legislation that would grant green cards and a pathway to citizenship to all legal, longterm nonresident workers. For decades U.S. officials and members of Congress have told me, "Committees bow to the wishes of the territories' delegates." There certainly is nothing to lose by trying.
Discussions with the Obama Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, USCIS must take place immediately to avert an economic and humanitarian crisis.
One thing is for sure, the CNMI's Government's never ending search to find qualified U.S. citizens to replace the workers is futile. There just are not enough locals to fill the thousands of positions and no amount of recruiting will lure enough U.S. citizens to relocate from the mainland to work for poverty-level wages.