Botched Federal Guest Worker Program: Dragging on and on and on...

June 14, 2012

The newly instituted Federal CNMI-only Guest Worker Program struggles on as it leaves thousands of foreign workers, employers and the CNMI economy in a shaky and uncertain state.

Last year USCIS stated that the processing of all permits would be completed by January 31, 2012. That self-imposed deadline has long passed. Eight months after the first CW permit applications were submitted, USCIS reports that 71% have not even been processed.

From the Saipan Tribune:
These were among the 5,704 I-129 CW petitions data entered from Oct. 7 through June 5.

A total of 11,739 CW-1 workers are sponsored in these petitions, filed by some 1,785 employers.

These figures include 767 workers on Tinian, 371 on Rota and the rest, on Saipan.

Sebrechts also said 53 petitions were denied consisting of 60 beneficiaries.

“Denials are still either withdrawals of the application or not meeting the eligibility requirements for employer or worker,” Sebrechts said.

USCIS has also issued requests for evidence for a variety of reasons.
Whether due to poor planning, inadequate staff, underfunding, lack of coordination or placing the CNMI at the bottom of its priority list, the program is anything but acceptable. There must be an oversight hearing to analyze the progression of P. L. 110-229, the ongoing problems with the federal CNMI-only Guest Worker Program, and the failure to follow the intent of the law in regards to providing status of the foreign workers and a smooth and orderly transition.

Some questions must be answered immediately. What happens if original CW permits are not processed within a year or by what would have been their expiration date? Will USCIS require employers to submit new applications and pay new or additional fees?

HB-1 permit seekers have reported to me that the processing is so slow that they have had to renew with additional and costly fees several times. I cannot locate timeline or statistical information on the processing of H1-B permits for CNMI foreign workers. I do know that there has been frustration and problems also with this category. In a March 2012 blog post I wrote

I received an email from a foreign worker who is frustrated with the H1-B 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."

Rather than pouring money into a CNMI-Only Guest Worker Program, a program that appears to be expensive, half-hearted, uncoordinated and difficult to implement, the U.S. Congress should act to free the legal, long-term foreign workers. They should be granted permanent residency status so that they can finally be made whole and rewarded for their years or decades of serving the CNMI as skilled and dedicated workers and valuable community members.  The foreign workers should be freed to continue working in the CNMI if they are employed and want to remain in the CNMI, or to be able to relocate elsewhere in the U.S. if they are presently unemployed but have a legal status such as parole-in-place.

The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights recognizes that all people are entitled to economic, social, political, and human rights. A disenfranchised underclass in a broken two-tiered system is not privy to these inalienable rights. It is not acceptable that the greatest country on Earth has not only  allowed people within its borders to be denied these basic rights, but is perpetual a system where denial will continue.

A two-tiered system that promotes disenfranchisement of a poorly paid underclass is unacceptable. It has been a scar on the face of our great country, and a black eye to a nation that has been a leader in supporting human rights across the world. It must end. The only way for it to completely end is to grant an unobstructed pathway to U.S. citizenship to the legal, long-term foreign workers. There can be no compromise, no lengthy debate, and no more delay. The U.S. Congress must act swiftly to ensure that all of the people of the Commonwealth are given dignity, basic rights and a chance to work together to build the economy and a brighter and more secure future for every person who calls the CNMI their home.