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
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.
“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].”The Tribune also quoted Governor Fitial's press secretray:
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.
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 jobDo 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?