NO to Extension of CNMI Guest Worker Program Transition Period!

July 18, 2012

An extension of a program that had a shaky start, was and is uncoordinated, lacks adequate funding and personnel and has little Congressional oversight would not serve the foreign workers, their employers or the CNMI. The CNMI Guest Worker Program is problematic and has not provided the smooth and orderly transition called for in the CNRA.

The fact is that there is absolutely no need to extend this program. A stable workforce would be ensured if the U.S. Congress would finally take the only right and humane step and grant permanent residency status to every legal, long-term foreign worker who has worked five or more continuous years in the CNMI. Granting permanent residency to the qualifying long-term foreign workers would end the uncertainty and confusion. It would end six more years of fees, the problems and delays with applications, the confusion with visas and travel, and the constant toying with people’s lives, not to mention the expense of running the program.

The CNRA calls for a reduction of the foreign work force to zero by December 2014. I have always interpreted that to mean that by December 2014 the U.S. Congress would have introduced and passed legislation to provide permanent residency status to the legal, long-term foreign workers making a CNMI-only guest worker program virtually unnecessary. This is the only just and democratic solution. It is the only solution that reflects our American values.

An extension may sound like an acceptable idea on paper to agency bureaucrats and members of Congress. But the truth is that the majority of the congressional members and their staffers have little knowledge of the dark history of the CNMI guest worker program and no idea that the majority of the foreign workers have lived and worked legally in the CNMI for years and even decades. The majority of the members do not know that a huge number of these legal foreign workers have suffered documented wage theft and have never been made whole. I am devoting my time to education efforts with the hope that with knowledge some members will do the right thing by the CNMI’s foreign workers.

The truth is that the CNMI officials and business leaders desperately need the foreign workers. However, they selfishly want them to stay only as a disenfranchised underclass where they can continue to cheat them, deny them of basic civil, political and human rights and keep them under their feet. The true shame is that this is done with the blessing of the United States Government under a federally run program. To extend the program will be to extend the shame. In fact, any guest worker program that lacks an eventual pathway to citizenship is deeply flawed and unjust.

The CNMI political and business leaders that support an extension should consider that this system is not only problematic for the legal, long-term foreign workers and businesses, but it does not provide the best solution for the CNMI. The CNMI economy would totally collapse if the majority of the foreign workers were to leave since they make up about 70% of the private work force and the CNMI lacks a skilled labor force to replace them.

The leaders who are calling for an extension of the program should be rallying Congress for a bill providing permanent residency status for all legal, long-term foreign workers if they truly want a lasting and mutually beneficial solution. Unlike an extension, which would provide an ineffective band aid solution, granting permanent residency to all legal, long-term foreign workers would provide the CNMI with an enduring economic, social and political solution.

The provision in the CNRA can be best met by granting the legal, long-term foreign workers permanent residency status. With permanent residency status the legal, long-term foreign workers will finally be free. Those who have secure jobs with good employers will be free to stay. Those with no jobs or jobs with greatly reduced hours or employers who steal wages will be free to leave. All will be free from uncertainty, free to work to make up for stolen wages, free to have a secure future. That is the only just and democratic solution.

The foreign workers have benefited the islands for decades and continue to be essential workers and community members. They are more than replaceable foreign workers; most have lived and worked in the CNMI for years and decades. They are de facto citizens. They must be granted permanent residency status.


Anonymous said...

so u are saying let's not extend the CW program. OK here comes 2014 no more extensions to the CW program AND no bill introduced, committee'ed, revised, voted on in the house, revised in the senate, sent back to the house, passed in the house, then passed in the senate, and finally signed into law by the president, whomever it may be in 2014. If there is no extension of the CW and each and the steps above are not completed before then all those foriegn nationals who haven't gotten a different status would have to leave.....u willing to take that gamble with their lives?

Wendy Doromal said...

The responsibility for oversight of the CNRA lies with the U.S. Congress. The responsibility for making cheated workers whole lies with the U.S. Congress. The responsibility for introducing a DECENT status bill lies with the U.S. Congress. Too bad they couldn't have introduced that bill when they should have - when the Democrats had control of the House and Senate in 2006. But it seems that politics and elected leaders' self-serving agendas are much more important than actually doing what is just and right. The U.S. Congress must act in 2013 to get a status bill pushed through. If it isn't done and there is no extension let the USCIS grant the legal foreign workers parole or another status until the process is completed. I have no power over "their lives" -the U.S. Congress does and that body has done nothing productive for years now.

Anonymous said...

Go home. Can't say it enough. You came here to work, your work is done. Go home.

Anonymous said...

exactly right but the USCIS wouldn't issue parole in anticipation that something may be done in the future. I would prefer that the CW program is extended so that if at some point during a period of legal status the congress decides to visit and resolve this issue the folks have a status during that process. Also i have not seen anywhere in the CNRA where it states that the GW would be made whole. Companies no longer in business are never going to pay back wages and USCIS and DHS have nothing to do with that nor does that have anything to do with a persons status. Just a fact of life....

It's not your money! said...

Hi Wendy,

The Murkowski bill had a 10-year TP to reduce foreign workers to zero. When the bill was re-drafted, the TP was only five years. By then, it was universally acknowledged that the CNMI would not be able to reduce its foreign workers to zero, because most were filling non-temporary, semi-skilled positions, and there are no INA employment-based visa categories for those jobs.

The CW program is supposed to allow foreign workers to supplement the local workforce in areas where there aren't enough local workers, for as long as they are needed. During the TP, employers are supposed to apply for regular INA employment-based visas for their employees who qualify. Those who do NOT qualify should be eligible for CW visas, only if their jobs are in areas that require supplementation by foreign workers. Also, employers and government are supposed to redouble efforts to educate, recruit and train U.S.-citizen workers to take on those jobs.

DHS has dropped the ball by ignoring the CNRA's requirement that CW's be authorized only in areas where there weren't enough local workers. I'm not sure whether they are also rejecting CW applicants who arguably qualify for regular INA visas, but they should be.

The plain fact is that everyone understood that the TP would have to be extended many times, unless the Congress created INA employment-based visas that to fit the majority of the CNMI's (non-temporary) jobs. Granting improved status to longterm foreign workers would be a partial solution, but it wouldn't entirely solve the problem. The needs of the business community change, and even if you give improved status to all legal, longterm guest workers, you would still need to recruit more foreign workers (due to attrition, and the changing needs of the island's businesses), and would still have many whose job skills were no longer needed (former garment workers, for example).

Anonymous 10:04 raises a good point: in the absence of immigration reform that allows INA visas to non-temporary workers, and in the absence of improved status that would allow longterm alien workers to fill those jobs, and in the absence of some sort of Marshall plan to train and recruit U.S.-citizen workers to fill those jobs, do you really want to discourage DC bureaucrats to deny an extension of the TP? I understand and share your passion for seeking justice for foreign workers, but I'd be reluctant to play "chicken" with the Congress, especially when it'll be the CW workers in one of the speeding cars.

I think this will work out in the longterm. DHS needs to respect the language of the CNRA and force employers to get INA employment-based visas for all those who qualify for them, and not give them CW permits. DHS needs to stop allowing CW's in areas of the private sector where the local workforce is sufficient. We need to allow the minimum wage to continue to rise, to make private-sector jobs (particularly entry level jobs) more attractive to U.S.-citizen workers. We need to continue to push for immigration reform, to reflect realities of the modern job market. And most importantly, we need to change how we think about foreign labor: Guest worker programs have never worked, because they always expand far beyond what anyone intended, create an underclass that is easily exploited, and delay business investment in labor-saving technologies that would improve efficiency and productivity. Instead, we should amend the INA to mandate that businesses who really need foreign workers assume the responsibility for teaching them English and sponsoring them for U.S. citizenship within five years of their recruitment.

Wendy Doromal said...

Hello It's Not Your Money

Thanks for your comment.

No, I don't want to play chicken or any other game. In fact, I am sick of all of the Congressional games and lack of oversight. The Congress has toyed with these people's lives for far too long. This issue cannot be viewed only by what is good for businesses or the CNMI economy, but has to be viewed by what is good, just and fair for all, including the foreign workers and their families. It will never ever be good for a guest worker to participate in a program that does not offer a pathway to citizenship. It will never be good to maintain a two-tiered society where the MAJORITY of the private workforce is disenfranchised and exploited. The U.S. Congress failed these people over and over and over. I want them to do the right thing and grant de facto citizens - the foreign workers who have lived, worked and contributed to the community on U.S. soil for years and decades- permanent residency status now. Not sometime down the road, NOW before even more fall through the cracks, before even more lose the chance to finally be made whole.

If I had had any idea of how poorly this program would have been executed, how long it would have taken to act on status, would I have supported the bill? No way. I am ashamed to have supported this bill knowing now that those who promised upgraded status or green cards (to my face) and could have introduced and passed legislation when we had control of both houses, but they purposely failed to follow through on their promises. (for political reasons.)

Not everyone understood that the TP would have to be extended many times -I did not believe that. I have always seen granting status as a way to build a permanent and stable workforce. I was assured a status bill would follow the passage of the CNRA. Yes, after granting permanent residency status to the legal, long-term foreign workers, some foreign workers may still be needed to supplement the workforce, but that should be under a reformed INA that applies the SAME laws to the CNMI as are applied to the states and certainly not under the flawed CNMI-only program.

Who will it work out for in the longterm? Certainly not for the reputation of the U.S. which will remain permanently destroyed by the decades of allowing the corrupt and abusive CNMI program and then implementing an unjust, un-American and un-democratic system of their own. It will not work out for the workers who were cheated and never made whole. It will not work out for those who lose their jobs after living and working legally in the CNMI for 10, 20, 30 or more years and then are sent "home" when they have no other home to return to. It will not work out for the hundreds of children that have to leave their home and go to a strange land. Perhaps it will work out for the businesses that get cheap labor that they can cheat with impunity because neither the CNMI or US ensures justice for the workers. Perhaps it will work out for the elected officials who play with the workers like they are toys, not people.

The federal program is a HUGE disappointment on a myriad of levels. And no, from my take DPS does not respect the language of the CNRA, the DOI does not, the State Department does not, the USDOJ does not, the Congress does not.

I agree with you 100% that the INA needs to be reformed. Too bad we live in a country that pretends to be great, but is far from it. Too bad we live in a country where the Congress is broken because the members act like spoiled brats instead of working to advance the goals of our nation and ALL of the people who live here. With the current state of the U.S., we will not see a reformed immigration system.

I agree that guest worker programs have never worked. It is because the basic idea is immoral. If you need workers then you invite them as future citizens -not as a disenfranchised underclass that is ripe for exploitation and abuse.

The Saipan Blogger said...

The best way to get rid of the contract workers is to make them permanent residents.

Anonymous said...

You are right (THE SAIPAN BLOGGER) and it is very easy and simple thing to do, no need any discussions,arguments or debates, those are just useless and wasting time and this is the right time, do it now before it's too late.

Anonymous said...

Anon; July,19,6;56 AM, Don't worry we will all go home very soon to make you feel happy (but I doubt) because when all the foreigners mostly members of SCC leaves SAIPAN simply because no more the needed skilled aliens as they always say they rely on to run their business, then your government (Your Employer) can no longer afford to pay your salary because no more revenue coming from these foreign Employers then you will agree with your Governor and the SCC THAT THEY NEEDED US. I think you should seek Consultant first before publishing your comment. Oh by the way, we are invited to come here to work that's why we are here and your Governor and the Scc still wants us to work and i'm sure you know that so I think they should be the ones to tell us or maybe you can tell them to tell us to go home because our work is done okay.