Unorderly and Inhumane Transition

March 14, 2012

The Saipan Tribune reported that the USCIS has only reviewed about 1,000 of the CNMI's 5,483 CW petitions that represent 11,268 foreign workers. The CW petitions were filed by 1,623 CNMI employers. Furthermore, it was reported that "many did not contain information needed in order to make a final decision and this is one of the reasons why many foreign workers have yet to receive their CW status or permit."

The data disclosed by USCIS shows that more than three months after the November 28, 2011 deadline  to submit the CW petitions, less than 1/5th of the petitions have been processed. How can this be acceptable? How long should the workers be expected to live in limbo and uncertainty?

At this rate, some permits may have to be renewed before initial permit is accepted or denied. In fact, I received an email from a foreign worker who is frustrated with the H1B application delays. The applicant wrote in part:
"I have a friend who got her EAD, (I filed mine ahead of hers.) which is expiring by the end of this month. She filed to renew such EAD last week and paid $380 for the second time. She was advised by USCIS to file a month before the expiration for her to continue working. Ms. Wendy, we wonder how long will it take them to decide on our HIB petitions? EAD is good for 120 days only, how many times should we apply and pay for such work permit until we get HIB results? I'm so worried, what if my petition is not approved? I just don't know what to do next."
Just how long will it take for USCIS to process H1B applications? If the applications cannot be processed in a timely manner, then at least they should extend the validity period of an EAD from 120 days to a year.  Just how long will it take to process all of the CW applications? Just how long will it take to process all of the applications for parole and the other categories?

This disorganized process has dragged on for years with delays contributing to the problems. The first delay was caused by Governor Fitial's lawsuit that challenged P.L. 110-229 in an attempt to maintain local control of immigration. The second delay was caused by the governor, Rep. Gregorio Sablan and other leaders who requested, and were granted, a 180-day delay in the enactment of the law. Instead of the law being enacted on June 1, 2009, the date of enactment was moved until November 28, 2009. The third delay was caused by the DHS. The department promised to release the final rule by March 2011, but it was not published until September 2011, only a few months before the November 28, 2011 shift to federalization. There was no "orderly transition" from the CNMI immigration system to the federal immigration system, as was promised in the law.

Even estimations of the total number of CW petitions conflict. Under P.L. 110-229, the USCIS must submit $150 to the CNMI government for each CW permit, which is to be used for education to train the local population. So far the USCIS has submitted $1.8 million, which divided by $150 comes to over 12,000 CW petitions, according to the lieutenant governor's press secretary Teresa Kim.

Incredibly, with only 1/5th of the CW petitions reviewed, the USCIS still does not demonstrate any urgency in completing the process. Mariana Gilomer, a USCIS public affairs officer said that the USCIS does not currently "have the data for CW approvals and denials." The Saipan Tribune reported:
Gitomer said USCIS does not have data at this time for CW petition approvals and denials.

She said CW petitions are adjudicated as the biometric results become available for review and USCIS does not have a projected completion date.

“USCIS has reviewed over 1,000 petitions. Many of the petitions did not contain the information needed in order to make a final decision. Several petitions have already received a 'Request for Evidence' and, when a response to such request is received, the petitions will be reviewed for approval or denial,” Gitomer told Saipan Tribune in an email response to questions.

If foreign workers have not yet received their appointment for biometrics yet, they should not be concerned because, according to Gitomer, the Application Support Center is able to collect biometrics for approximately 128 people per day.

“The appointments for the biometrics collection are not scheduled more than one month in advance. Majority of the CW beneficiaries are currently waiting in queue for a biometrics appointment and will receive notification as soon as an appointment becomes available,” she said.
The USCIS cannot do anything to speed up this process' to speed up the biometric? "As an appointment becomes available"? What is the average wait time for an appointment? (According to my friend's email the wait time is too long!) How much of a backlog is there?  USCIS cannot dispatch some employees to be stationed in the CNMI to conduct biometrics processing until the job is done?

Gitomer explained the denial and appeal process, which will surely add even more months to the final determination. After a denial, a foreign worker could not work and would be out of status "and would be required to exit the CNMI." The Tribune reported:
If and when a CW petition is denied, Gitomer said “USCIS will afford each petitioner an opportunity to demonstrate that they are eligible for the CW classification.”

“If USCIS determines that the petition may not be approved, the petitioner will receive a detailed notice explaining the reasons for denial and their appeal rights,” she added.

In cases when CW petitions are denied and employers appeal the denial, the workers cannot continue to work until the appeal process is completed.

“The decision resulting in the denial of Form I-129CW leaves the beneficiary without lawful immigration status. Absent an approved application or petition which would bestow valid immigration status upon the beneficiary, he or she would be considered present in the United States in violation of the law and would be required to depart the CNMI,” Gitomer said.
Clearly, the agency has no sense of urgency. Perhaps these bureaucrats are unaware of, or do not care about the unstable and anguishing situation that most of the long-term foreign workers find themselves in. Some have even been turned away at federally funded offices because they do not have a CW permit.

How can the foreign workers plan if they do not know if their application has been accepted or denied? How long will they live in limbo? Who pays for their exit if their petitions are denied? Will it be their last employer of record, or are they to magically come up with the airfare when most are owed thousands from criminal-thief employers who stole wages and other benefits from them?

Overall, the U.S. Government has done a truly poor job implementing the CNRA and the U.S. Congress has failed in providing adequate oversight.

The trainings that USCIS has provided for employers and employees have been exemplary and are perhaps the one area of the transition where sincere efforts are evident. USCIS and DHS personnel have flown from Hawaii or the states to conduct trainings, have provided email and online updates, and have conducted webinars for both employers and employees. Is is unfortunate that the areas of customer relations and the timely processing of applications has not met these same standards.

By all reports, the USCIS office was not properly staffed or funded to handle the transition of the CNMI immigration system to the federal system in an organized, methodical or humane manner. The processing of the applications takes place off-island, thousands of miles away from the CNMI. Foreign workers have reported frustration with the CNMI's USCIS Office. Some have said that they have been treated rudely at the office, while others have reported receiving conflicting information from officials.  Why can't the Department of Homeland Security increase the staff of the CNMI USCIS Office or the staff of the California USCIS Office where the applications are being reviewed to ensure an "orderly transition"?

The timeline that DHS is following is not acceptable. Could the federal officials and members of the U.S. Congress please explain how they expect the long-term foreign workers to survive while they cannot work, as is the case of the H1B applicants? Are they expected to beg on the streets? Perhaps fish? Eat grass? Have the U.S. officials even considered the seriousness of the plight of the foreign workers? Do they realize how the lack of planning and urgency on the part of the federal officials in this transition process has put thousands of foreign workers and their families in an extremely unstable and perilous situation? Have they considered how the delays are impacting businesses and the economy?

Instead of trying to haphazardly run a CNMI-only federal immigration program to regulate foreign workers –most of whom have lived and worked in the CNMI for many years and decades–why not cut the expenses and eliminate the suffering by granting permanent residency to the legal, long-term foreign workers? FREE THEM!

Perhaps an appeal to the United Nations for assistance is in order since the desperate situation of the foreign workers grows more desperate with each passing day, and it appears that their plight is being minimized or totally ignored by the United States Government.


Anonymous said...

Wendy: Sorry, this is not on subject but just FYI. Didn't know how to contact you. There is a new book out about Saipan, a fiction novel by former Peace Corps guy Fred Kluge. This is "Master Blaster", out on 3/29 I believe. Donna J. Cruz

Wendy Doromal said...

Thanks Donna! I have another book that he wrote about Saipan. I'll be sure to order it. I just read Erin Greenwood's fictional book, Tropical Depression. It's a great book! You can contact me at

Best wishes to you.

Anonymous said...

fake employers, employers filing for hundreds of employees when they don't need them, people clearly not eligible applying what do you want cis to do?? just give it away?? there is a process to ensure those deserving of a temporary status get it no more making it up as they go like the cnmi. people don't want to go through the process and do what it takes hasta la vista, the US isn't the only place these folks can find work.... you wanted the cnmi to be part of the US and US immigration this is what it takes. This attitude of gimmie gimmie gimmie it is my right doesn't fly.......find another country that is as accomidating as the US. Many people are getting tired of the US bashing......why do you think your politicians who used to advocate for aliens have backed isn't going to get better. the requests for evidence being sent by cis is going to result in an exposure of fraud and ineligble applicants clogging the system, violations of federal law will result in arrest, prosecution, jail time and deportation.....just ask the marriage fraud applicants, they are getting busted regularly. With that kind of fraud the feds are clamping down.... we should all appreciate the rule of law coming to ready for more of this.......

Anonymous said...

You probably won't post this but that's okay. The DHS isn't differentiating between Filipinos, Chinese, Pakistanis or any other race. Although you primarily support the Filipinos on island you should know that in the eyes of the Federal government there is no difference. They are simply statistics, numbers and categories. Also remember that this is the Department of Homeland Security. They are concerned about potential terrorists from all the above. This is a fact jack. Whether it be spies from China or Abu Sayaf cells operating here the Feds are highly concerned and they should be. You also need to know that soon the Ombuds office will be extinct. This archaic post does absolutely nothing since immigration is now under US control. What will happen here is about seven thousand foreigners will stop filing papers, letters and any other documents. They will simply stay put. I heard that one reason why so many do not file is so they can simply disappear into the island. This may work for a while because there aren't enough ICE officers to round up illegals. What will happen next will be one of the largest sting operations in the US. An announcement will be made calling all illegals to the American Memorial Park for a "meeting" and "update" to status. ICE will swarm in and arrest everyone. Just wait, you ain't seen nothing yet.

Anonymous said...

sounds like apocalypse to me. can you back up your prediction?

Capt said...

Are these people that are awaiting their CW-1 status allowed to work while they are waiting?

The more I look at this inefficiency of the Feds (which is beginning to mirror the CNMI Govt"s)it seems that they are purposely causing these delays to put a burden on these workers and employers.(including financial)
It looks as if the Feds may be actually trying to force many to return to their homelands thus effectively trimming the CW workforce and forcing the private sector to hire US Cit.
This may not be the case, it may be that they just hired so many non qualified workers to handle this (another similarity the CNMI)
Maybe it is just a contagious virus that is affecting everything that is connected to the CNMI's Fitialization movement.
Whatever it is it is just so bad, either approve it, send the forms back as incomplete or deny it and get it over with.

Wendy Doromal said...

4:36 HUH? I don't differentiate between races of foreign workers. I support all of them in their quest for justice and green cards. If the US government's system regards the foreign workers as statistics then it is no better than the CNMI's corrupt system.

You don't even understand what the ombudsman's office does.

Until every worker receives their unpaid wages, every criminal who has committed a crime against a foreign worker is prosecuted, every unjust act against the workers is avenged, and every legal, long-term foreign worker is granted permanent residency, the CNMI and US governments will continue to be human rights violators and should receive the condemnation of every foreign country that has supplied workers and every individual who supports justice. Soon the host countries are going to demand justice and THAT is the reality --- not your round 'em up daydream.

Wendy Doromal said...

Captain: They cannot be so stupid to think that they "can force" workers to their homelands. After all, it was under the watch of the US that thousands of foreign workers were ROBBED and had wages STOLEN by employers who were never prosecuted. Members of the U.S. Congress did nothing, the U.S. Department of Labor did nothing, the U.S. Department of Justice did nothing, the U.S. Department of Interior did nothing. They ALL were notified multiple times about the millions of documented dollars that was stolen from the workers. The majority of the foreign workers cannot even afford food, rent and necessities, never mind a plane ticket!

I think the feds sat on this, threw together a weak, unworkable plan at the last minute, failed to hire enough personnel to process the applications and cannot even have the decency to address the outrageous suffering and problems this mess has caused to innocent people! Such inhumanity deserves to be exposed to the world. The foreign workers need to notify their home countries NOW and tell them of the situation they are in because of the failures of this system. No new workers should be allowed to enter the CNMI. It is unstable and unsafe. It should be put on the foreign countries' blacklists.

Biba San Jose! said...

“Federalization: You asked for it; you got it.” © 2008, Ms. D.

This was all so sadly predictable, captain, to anyone with eyes to see, who was not blinded by self-importance in leading the 7 December 2007 “Unity March” or other self-promoting political or social agendas.

While you might cleverly blame “Fitialization” for the ineluctible consequences of federalized minimum wages and immigration, in doing so you are displaying complete ignorance of the basic economic principles that are resulting in the ongoing collapse since F-Day, Saturday, 28 November 2009.

Go ahead, blame Fitial if it makes you feel better, just like some Obama zealots still blame Bush for everything under the sun. But what has been happening since the long-anticipated passage of the CNRA on Thursday, 8 May 2008 is absolutely no surprise to anyone with an in-depth understanding of how DHS administers the INA.

Yet there is always a silver lining. As the former Ombudsperson has pointed out, displacement of the excess unskilled labor force through the economic depression afflicting the CNMI will ultimately result in greater opportunity for the indigenous youth of our Commonwealth and, ultimately, through the laws of supply and demand, a higher living wage for the U.S. citizens who remain.

The sooner the surplus labor force is removed, the better it will be for everyone, including the erstwhile guest workers themselves. Hundreds of unemployed CWs want to go home!

The Feds should offer free transportation back home, without degrading removal proceedings. It's the least they can do!

Biba San Jose!

Pam Brown said...

News flash, the Ombuds office is not going any where. It's mission has not changed since its inception by Congressional mandate in 1998 - to assist aliens with labor, immigration and law enforcement matters. Does anyone think such abuses are gone simply because a new immigration authority is controlling immigration matters?

Anonymous said...

One of the main reasons the Ombudsmans Office was stood up was because there was no federal presence regarding immigration as it was under local control. CNRA changed that now that the Feds control immigration on Saipan the Ombudsmans involvement is over with relation to immigration. Name one Ombudsmans Office in the U.S. or terroritory where immigration is under Federal control. nada not one. Congress is looking at the issue as are other agencies tasked with ensuring the proper spenditure of U.S. funds. How many CWs and foriegn nationals are working there?? They are looking at why no USCs?? You can't tell me there are not USCs or at a minimum green card holders with the language skills needed. Interesting times coming up for all those holderovers from the days gone by......too many people wore too many hats and the closets are getting cleaned out..... there are plenty of skeletons.......hiding in the closets on Saipan..... it hasn't been pretty but the Feds are out there now and they will do their jobs..... they don't care who was there before,what their jobs were or which side they used to be on.

Anonymous said...

Well, Pam Brown is still needed as long at least as we have these "CW Transitional Worker Visas". Unlike all other U.S. visas with prevailing wages, these visas are ripe for fraud, which is understandable why the USCIS hasn't made decisions in approving the vast majority of the petitions. I don't even know what the USCIS even thinks when they look at petitions for manpower companies that want to hire workers when they have no customers. I also wonder what the USCIS thinks when hundreds of employers refused to hire U.S. citizen applicants for unskilled positions. I agree with Wendy that there should be more USCIS people no only to handle these petitions but also to handle U.S. citizen hiring complaints. I also think that Pam Brown or an equivalent offical should be tasked to take complaints from U.S. citizens in unfair hiring and disregard of the U.S. citizen job preference. Businesses are taking advantage of foreign workers at the expense of U.S. workers and U.S. workers have no one specifically that is looking out for their interests in the CNMI.

Pam Brown said...

Again, the Ombuds office was not "stood up" because there was no federal immigration office here. It was stood up because of the abuse of aliens both by employers, officials and other criminal enterprises. None of these abuses have gone away with the CNRA.

Wendy Doromal said...

Exactly. If anything the Ombudsman Office is understaffed. There are an endless number of abuses that foreign workers have reported to advocates. I have seen the foreign workers retreat in fear. They know if they complain to officials they risk having to leave and many have no homes to return to or opportunities elsewhere. Same old, same old. Just as I predicted. I said in written testimony in 2008, if real reform and democratic changes were not implemented (included permanent residency status) the immigration system would remain the same evil, abusive system EXCEPT instead of being under the CNMI government it would be an evil, abusive system under the name of the United States. Such an utter and complete failure. This system will never be fixed until the foreign workers are no longer considered replaceable commodities, but are regarded as future citizenship. So ashamed to say I am a United States citizen.

Anonymous said...

You don't have to go home, you just can't stay here.