July 30, 2012
A July 19, 2012 letter from the Saipan Chamber of Commerce (SCC) to Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano requests that she persuade the Secretary of Labor to extend the transitional period another five years. The letter reads in part:
The SCC views the additional transition period as absolutely necessary to prevent a collapse of our CNMI economy. Our tourism industry cannot survive without available and qualified human resources, and the islands’ businesses have not totally adjusted to a consumer base decimated by the elimination of our apparel industry three years past. The CNMI population has dropped over 25% since 2005.
The initial five year transition period, where 11,737 CW-1 visa applications have been received by USCIS for temporary foreign national employment within the CNMI only, has been demonstrated as simply not enough time to phase-out those 11,737 CW-1 visa foreign national employees by replacing them with U.S. citizens and/or residents by December 2014.
There simply are not enough eligible, trained and qualified U.S. residents available in the CNMI to replace those CW-1 visa holders by the end of 2014. Regardless of USCIS issued H visas and other professional employment visas issued in the CNMI in the future, the CW-1 visa category established by the CNRA for use within the established transitional period ending December 2014, cannot justifiably be ended until there are people to replace the issued CW-1 visas.Nick Nishikawa, Chairman of the Hotel Association also claims that the CNMI needs more time to train residents workers."
The truth is that the CNMI will always need more time! That is because there will not be enough "local" or "resident" workers to replace the skilled nonresident workers in 2 years, or in 5 years, or even in 10 years. Even if 16,000 residents could be trained, there will never be enough local workers that are willing to accept low-paying jobs that involve hard labor or high level skills. Where on U.S. soil do you see advertisements for architects, nurses or other skilled laborers that offer hourly wages of $5.05 to $8.00? The same $5.05 is offered to clerks, waitresses and other low entry jobs that require little training. The honest truth is that these business leaders want to keep wages low to increase their profit. They are, and have always been, first and foremost interested in their personal economic state rather than the economic state of the CNMI. None give a damn about the serious poverty of the foreign workers and their families and the fact that they are perpetually stuck in that state under the transitional worker program.
The members of the SCC and HAMNI are business owners and leaders. Why haven't they trained and hired resident workers over the last three decades? What stopped them? If they could not accomplish training a local workforce to accept thousands of entry level jobs that require mere on-the-job training over the last three decades, then what makes anyone think that will they take the initiative after an extension? Could it be that the residents want only the high-paying government jobs that require little effort? Could it be many residents feel living on federal handouts beats working for $5.05 hourly? Could it be that the business owners like the skilled, obedient foreign workers who have a high level work ethic? Could it be that some of the business owners like having the foreign workers because it is easier to steal wages from them?
There is absolutely no need to extend this program, and certainly not for five more years. Again, a stable, trained and qualified workforce would be ensured if the Obama Administration and the U.S. Congress There is absolutely no need to extend this program, and certainly not for five years. Again, a stable, trained and qualified workforce would be ensured if the Obama Administration and the U.S. Congress would finally take the only right and humane step and ensure permanent residency status for every legal, long-term foreign worker who has worked five or more years in the CNMI. Granting permanent residency to the qualifying long-term foreign workers would end the uncertainty and confusion. It would end several 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.
An extension may sound like an acceptable idea to members of Congress or agency bureaucrats who do not want to deal with the status issue or the work involved in applying the INA to the islands. However, the truth is that the majority of these officials have little knowledge of the dark history of the CNMI guest worker program and have 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 these federal officials do not know that a huge number of these legal foreign workers have suffered documented wage theft while working under the U.S. flag and have never been made whole. There is nothing acceptable about extending a program that offers no chance ever for U.S. status when the majority of the affected individuals and their immediate family members, including their U.S. citizen children, have no other home but their home under the U.S. flag in the CNMI.
While the CNMI officials and business leaders desperately need the foreign workers, many selfishly want them to remain only as a disenfranchised and oppressed underclass. Under this federal program employers can and will continue to cheat the foreign workers, deny them basic civil, political, and human rights, and keep them under their feet. For example, under the CNMI-Only Transitional Worker Program the employer is required to pay the CW-1 application fees. However, just like under the old CNMI system, employers tell their foreign workers, if they want a job they must pay all of the related application fees. None will complain because they want to keep their jobs and stay in the CNMI, which has become their home. An extension will continue the injustices for five more years. The true shame is that now the wage theft, exploitation and other injustices occurring under a federally run program. To extend the program will be to extend the shame.
We must recognize that extending and perpetuating a federal CNMI-Only Transitional Worker Program will not effectively solve the CNMI’s economic woes or ensure a stable workforce in the CNMI. The CNRA’s intent was to apply the existing federal immigration laws to the CNMI. There should be no rush to extend this program. The rush should be to correct the program’s problems, push permanent residency status for the legal, long-term foreign workers, and start work immediately on applying the INA to the CNMI after the December 2014 deadline.
Read the SCC letter: