News for Foreign Workers

November 10, 2011

Candlelight Prayer Vigil at OCCUPY USCIS
On Friday evening all foreign workers are invited to attend a candlelight prayer vigil at 7:00pm at OCCUPY USCIS.

Don't forget the November 21st gathering of foreign workers and their families from 2:00pm to 7:00pm at the same place. See this post and Human Dignity President Itos Feliciano  invites the foreign workers in today's Marianas Variety article.

Less Than 1% of CW-1 Visas Processed
With only 2 weeks until the November 27, 2011 deadline, it seems astounding that out of an estimated 16,000 foreign workers, less than 1 percent, or 366 of the possible visas for foreign workers have been processed. USCIS media representative Marie Therese Sebrecthts stated that only 366 CW-1 "workers had been sponsored on 198 1-129 petitions" as of November 4, 2011.

The article does not state that the 366 have been approved, just that they have been "sponsored" or filed.

It should be noted that presently foreign workers make up an estimated 80 to 90 percent of the private sector work force in the CNMI. After November 27, 2011 all foreign workers without CW-1 or other U.S. work visas will not be allowed to work and will be considered out of status. Those with pending applications can work until the petition is approved or denied; of course, if the petition is denied, the foreign worker can no longer work and will be considered out of status.

Will there be a shut down of the private sector or are there thousands of petitions that are waiting to be processed by November 25th (November 27th is a Sunday)? The deadline to submit the petitions for CW-1 visas is November 27th, which is a Sunday, so perhaps November 25th would be the last day that they could be submitted.

The low number of processed visas is probably due to several factors. The DHS delay in the release of the final rule is certainly one. The final rule for the CNMI-only transitional guest worker program was published a mere two months before the deadline marking the expiration of umbrella permits and the start of the U.S. program. This is hardly enough time to educate employers and employees and to ensure a smooth transition from the CNMI to the federal system.

Complicating matters is the fact that the U.S. Congress failed to act on the DOI Report to introduce a  bill that would provide status for all of the estimated 16,000 legal, long-term foreign workers as was the intent of the P.L. 110-229. There now exists a humanitarian crisis in the CNMI.

We can assume that some of the employers are looking for U.S. citizens to fill positions that are now being held by foreign workers. Still there are not enough trained U.S. citizens in the CNMI to fill all of the positions presently held by foreign workers.

The teacher, who usually has his ear to the ground, commented on the Marianas Variety story saying: 
I've seen three different contracts floating around town where workers can hire themselves with a manpower agency as their rep...for a fee of course...or on one they take option 3 which is paying a 1k service fee for job placement and 700 additional in fees. One is an agreement to pay manpower a 1.50 per hr worked plus fees and 300 additional per placement.
This is immigration fraud, is it not?  I hope that the teacher rings up USCIS if he has any credible information. Can we expect more foreign workers to fall victim to scams and illegal recruitment under the U.S. program? I have been alerted that employers are telling their workers that they have to pay for their own CW visas. Perhaps these agencies that charge impoverished foreign workers $1,000 fees for a job are also attempting to skirt the intent of the law and scam both the foreign workers and the employers. The foreign workers should not pay these fees! These scammers could just be taking the money with a promise of a job, but in the end can say that their petition was not approved or that there is no employers or some other line.

Has anyone in the U.S. government figured out yet that the foreign workers are needed, that they have lived and worked on U.S. soil for years and decades, and that the best solution is to give them permanent residency?

Debate Over Hourly Wages and Qualifications
As I have reported here repeatedly, the advertised wages for professional positions are ridiculously low. A teacher's salary at a private school is advertised at $5.05 hourly, the same as that of a janitor at the same school.

Now comes Rep. Gregorio (Kilili) Sablan protesting the fact that the wages for positions like engineers, teachers and other professionals are advertised at  ridiculously low rate of $5.05 hourly. Some of us expected that under the U.S. program these positions would be elevated to a fair wage for all workers –foreign workers, as well as U.S. resident workers.  It appears that this is not the case.

Of course, for decades the CNMI government encouraged and supported the low wages to allow businesses and employers the opportunity to hire cheap foreign labor so that they could fill their pockets and expand the economy. Politicians and elected leaders protested applying the U.S. minimum wage to the CNMI for decades. Former Governor Froilan Tenorio hired felon lobbyist Jack Abramoff to lobby against legislation to apply the minimum wage. That lobbying bill cost the CNMI over $11.million. I bet the CNMI could use that wasted money right now.

Finally, in 2007 a bill was passed to increase the CNMI's minimum wage of $3.05 to the U.S. minimum wage of $7.25 with $.50 annual increases until the wage reaches the U.S. minimum wage. Still, elected officials, including Delegate Sablan, convinced the U.S. Congress to delay the scheduled 2011 $.50 minimum wage increase, keeping it at $4.05 hourly, far below the federal minimum wage. Governor Fitial backed the delay and also protested applying the federal minimum wage to CIP projects.

The CNMI was built on the backs of foreign workers. The CNMI's resident workers filled higher paying positions in the government sector. Now that the CNMI government has no money, this tradition of handing out government positions is winding down. For decades when the economy was strong, the local residents could vote for the right person and be ensured a government job, whether it was a "real" and needed job or a just job on paper to provide them with a salary. Reality has set in and that system has collapsed. What U.S. citizen wants to accept private sector wages that pay an annual salary that is far below the poverty level?  Even if they have no chance of landing a coveted government sector job and are forced to find one in the private sector, few unemployed U.S. citizens in the CNMI qualify for professional positions, such as teacher, engineer, accountant, architect or other professional jobs. These are positions that require a college degree, specific skills and experience that many U.S. citizen residents lack.

CNMI Rep. Tony Sablan joined two other CNMI House members to pre-file a resoultion to request that Delgate Sablan and Governor Fitial "request USCIS and the U.S. Attorney's Office to look into reports of possible violations of U.S. Public Law 110-229 by CNMI employers.” 

The Saipan Tribune quoted Rep. Tony Saban:
“Some employers are inflating job qualifications with very low hourly wages. Some employers are implementing job interviewing processes intended to ensure that U.S. worker applicants are rejected,” Rep. Sablan said in his House Resolution 17-75.

If the employers are following the Prevailing Wage Survey aren't they following the law? If an employer wants specific qualifications, for a position isn't that his/her right?

The Saipan Tribune quoted Delegate Sablan:
Delegate Sablan said that “hiring preference should not be used as a tool to harass law-abiding companies, but it is equally important that the letter and the spirit of the law be honored and that qualified United States workers be first considered for any job to be filled by a CW worker [Commonwealth-only worker].”

He said employers are going to need to attest to federal officials that no qualified U.S. workers are available to fill any position for which a CW worker is sought.

“Signing a fraudulent attestation or otherwise not complying with Public Law 110-229 could subject an employer to severe consequences. I expect that the appropriate authorities will work to enforce all applicable federal laws and regulations,” Delegate Sablan told Saipan Tribune.
The Tribune also quoted Governor Fitial's press secretray:
Press secretary Angel Demapan said the Fitial administration, through the CNMI Department of Labor, has already come out publicly to forewarn employers that they should not be “inflating” minimum qualifications in an attempt to prevent U.S. citizens from qualifying for available job
Do politicians have the right to tell employers that now they must hire workers at a higher wage because their previous economic scheme was built on quicksand and now U.S. citizen residents find themselves unemployed?

The advertised wage only has to correspond to the Prevailing Wage Survey. Only now that leaders want  unemployed U.S. residents to fill positions formerly or presently held by foreign workers, do they protest the ridiculously low wages. So typical of the CNMI leaders' mindset.

Whether the elected officials like it or not, employers have the right to set qualifications for a position in their own business. If they need and want someone who speaks three languages, then they can legally advertise that as a required qualification. If they need and want someone with 10 years of experience and a college degree, then they can legally advertise those qualifications.

It appears that many employers may be advertising positions based on the reliable and loyal foreign workers' qualifications because they want to keep the person who has loyally served them and is doing a good job, or they want someone equally as skilled and qualified as a replacement. That is their legal right. The employers have to attest no other qualified U.S. citizen was available. If no qualified U.S. citizen could meet the advertised job specifications, then the employer is following the law. No elected leader has the right to tell employers to water down their expectations for a position merely to hire a U.S. applicant. What business owner wants to do that and how would that benefit the employer or the CNMI economy?


Anonymous said...

The CNMI political system depends on local workers being employed predominantly in the public sector. The new CW Visa is unlike every other federal visa and allows employers to inflate qualifications and experience to keep local workers. No protections for U.S. workers that exist in every other federal work visa were included in the CW visa on purpose. Politicans are merely blowing hot air now, when in fact they purposely choose not to include prevailing wages in the CW visa.

Anonymous said...

Yep, blowing hot air. Any employer can advertise the requirements he desires in an employee. Do Kilili and Uncle Ben really think they can tell employers they must hire a US citizen if he is less qualified than an alien?. So many unemployed locals had CNMI government jobs where they sat and did little work. What skills did they learn to prepare them for a real job (as opposed to a political appointment)? Get real. They created this corruption, now deal with it and stop blaming everyone. Look in the mirror.

Anonymous said...

All,,,,,, do not be suprised when there are not 16,000 cw applications. the private sector realzies thye dont need 6 employess working 20 hrs a week. they can keep 3 and work them 40, better for the workers too as they make more money. I work with employers every day on Saipan and this is what they say. Extrapolate this by the number of employers in the CNMI and there will be only a few thousand legitimate CW applications filed. Remember you heard it here,,,, I say 6000-8000 total CW-1 applications. Many GW will realize, as their employers do, that those who were at one time needed are not needed any longer. We cannot blame the CNMI Govt, US Govt, locals, mainland US citizens or the employers for that. It is a fact of life in this new economic enviorment. Those GW not needed in industry now, although unfortunate, have no choice but to look for work elsewhere in the world.... they ain't gotta go home but they can't stay here, legally that is and any chance at a future US status is hampered if not destroyed by staying here out of status ICE will find you or USCIS will find out you are out of status when that day comes you go to them and ask them to approve a potential benefit for you. by then it will be too late and they will tell you sorry but being here out of status negates your chance at that ain't fair but it is what it is......

Anonymous said...

there is nothing wrong if an employer would set a hiring preference for an advertise Job because they have the right to choose between a highly qualified worker or a worker who is just available for the position. Besides there investment is at stake here.

Anonymous said...

@anon 7:25 and 10:50

Actually there is something wrong with inflating job qualifications. It defeats the sole purpose of priority hiring of qualified U.S. workers. The difference in the CW visa is that in other federal visa such as H1A and H1B, employers must pay higher wages for qualifications (speaking certain languages, years of experience, and education). Imposing a higher wage (prevailing wage) for uneeded qualifications is what prevents employers from requiring 10 years experience and a bachelor's degree for a florist at $5/hr.

Wendy Doromal said...

If the qualifications are what the employer needs to fill a position then they are not "inflated". For decades employers have gotten foreign workers with inflated qualifications -waitresses and maids with 4 year degrees, engineers that work in construction, etc. Maybe it is not the qualifications that are inflated but the wages that are deflated.

Anonymous said...

The only way we will know if an employer truly needs certain qualifications is if there is a prevailing wage (higher wage for degrees and experience based on job category). I guarantee that employers will stop requiring bachelor's degrees and years of experience for entry level jobs if they must pay a substantially higher salary.

Employers will pay as little as they can for workers, and worldwide there are desperate workers that are ready and willing to work for peanuts. Without requiring prevailing wages, you take advantage of not only foreign workers, but U.S. workers as well.