The CNMI Federal Guest Worker Program Requires Attention and Reform

July 19, 2012

The CNMI federal worker program is like a pieced together, build-as-you-go Lego project with missing pieces. It is a demonstration of how a bureaucratic program can fail when it poorly planned, poorly funded, poorly coordinated and poorly executed. It is in dire need of oversight and reform.

The absence of a status provision in the CNRA (Consolidated Natural Resources Act) was perhaps the first bad omen. Any guest worker program that offers no pathway to citizenship is immoral and unjust.  Foreigners who are recruited to fill jobs that residents cannot fill should not be treated as replaceable labor units. Foreigners who have lived and worked in a U.S. locality for years and decades should be accepted as members of the community with full economic, political and social rights. The failure of the U.S. Congress to introduce and pass legislation providing for status for the CNMI's legal, long-term foreign workers is reprehensible.

In a December 2008 Status Report submitted to House Natural Resources Committee and the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, I wrote:
In formulating a federal guest worker program, it is imperative that the abusive policies of the CNMI Department of Labor be ended and replaced with democratic, constitutional policies and regulations that afford the alien workers justice and due process. We have witnessed three decades of abuse where nonresident workers invited to work on U.S. soil have been routinely cheated, violated, and denied justice while their employers have never been held accountable. We cannot allow the corrupt, dysfunctional, unjust CNMI system to continue under the federal name.
Yet, that is exactly what is happening now. The U.S. Congress appears not to have learned any lessons from the broken CNMI labor and immigration system that allowed and ignored the systematic abuse of the nonresident workers, and resulted in the establishment of a two-tiered society where the majority of the population was, and remains, disenfranchised and voiceless. It forged ahead to replace that system with a similar system that will be expensive not just in fiscal costs, but also in human costs.

The corrupt and cruel decades-long CNMI immigration system has been replaced with an inhumane and restrictive federal system under which wage theft continues, questionable businesses are allowed to hire foreign workers, and contract violations are as prevalent as ever. Even foreign workers who are government employees, such as nurses and other medical personnel, have felt the sting of unjust labor practices and wage theft.


For the participating foreign workers, the federal system is a maze with a fortressed exit. Confusion and uncertainty have grown every year since the CNRA passed in 2008. Just sorting through the regulations and restrictions is a challenge for employees and for their employers. How many more hoops will be set up for the foreign workers to jump through?

Eight months after the deadline for the CW permits to be submitted, only about one-third have been processed. Soon employers will have to repeat the process for the upcoming year.

The USCIS reports that over 3,000 CW petitions have not been adjudicated, but have been issued "requests for further evidence". The Marianas Variety reported:
Sebrechts said some petitioners failed to include documentation showing that they are doing business and that they have considered all available U.S. workers for the job position and/or that they are offering employment that is consistent with the nature of their business. 
She said USCIS’s California Service Center has also had to ask for evidence of the beneficiary’s lawful presence in the NMI,” she said.

“Many of these requests are still outstanding. It is not possible to make a final decision on these petitions until the employer provides a response,” she said
Is the delay in processing CW applications due in part to the fact that some of the businesses are not considered legitimate? I am not sure what criteria USCIS has to determine whether a business is legitimate or not. By basic standards a business should not be considered legitimate if it is not licensed, does not pay taxes, or engages in wage theft. Businesses should not be considered legitimate unless and until they pay in full any outstanding judgments documented by legal papers such as administrative orders that state the business owes an employee or employees wages.

The CNMI Government allowed the Tinian Dynasty to pay only $6 million of a tax bill that was over $30 million. Was this allowed so that the business could be viewed as legitimate in the eyes of federal officials, thus allowing it to continue to hire foreign workers? Should a business that cannot pay all of its taxes on time or pay all of its workers on time even be allowed to hire more foreign workers? I say no.

Why would a virtually bankrupt government forgive millions of dollars in taxes for a business when the revenue is desperately needed. Why was a different stance taken on Coral Ocean Point's case of past due taxes? In the case of Coral Ocean Point, the CNMI Government froze its bank accounts. Is such a blatant double standard and apparent political favoritism even legally acceptable?

But the problems are not limited to lengthy and permit process and businesses that violate laws. Another incident highlights other flaws in the guest worker program and the lack of coordination between U.S. federal agencies in administrating it.

It was reported that this week a Filipino CW worker, Teodolfo Perez, was denied a CW visa due to ignorance of State Department personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Manila. The man has worked in the CNMI for 17 years. CNMI legal federal minimum wage is $5.05, rather than the national federal minimum wage of $7.25.

Many mainlanders hearing the story of Mr. Perez would question, "Why is a person who has been living and working legally in the United States for 17 years not already a permanent resident?"  The answer, of course, is because the U.S. Congress has failed to enact legislation that would grant permanent residency to the legal, long-term foreign workers of the CNMI.

For the foreign workers, a stint working in the CNMI under the federal CNMI-Only Transitional Worker Program offers restrictive travel, a minimum wage much lower than that earned in the mainland, a maze of regulations to negotiate, and no pathway to citizenship. Under CW status, years living and working on U.S. soil do not count for any form of upgraded U.S. status. Most CW categories do not qualify for H-1B or other visa categories that offer a pathway to citizenship. The CW status is perhaps the least desirable of all U.S. status categories. The foreign workers participating in the CW program are stuck in an oppressive situation and will eventually reach a dead end where they must leave if changes are not made soon.

While the USCIS has concentrated on restrictions and oppressive rules, where is the coordination with the U.S. Departments of Labor, State, Justice and Interior to ensure that the rights of the foreign workers are not breached? How is this system serving their interests? This system is about as far from the American Dream as one can get.

The program could and should be reformed through amendments to the CNRA before any extension of the transition period is even considered. Improvements, including a status provision granting all legal, long-term foreign workers permanent residency status, should be included at the time the U.S. Congress considers an extension.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

The case of Mr. Perez is another UNIQUE situation that ever happen as far as SAIPAN and US relationship or connection or whatever you may call it is concern. I used the word (unique) because i often read this word when they talked about SAIPAN. I'm hoping that this case of Mr. Perez can SERVE as an eye opener for people concern to open their mouth that are CLOSED for years and to start to move and do the right thing to do.You know that this is wrong and should not happen and I guess you know too what to do so.

Anonymous said...

Mam Wendy so it's like a CRISTAL CLEAR that the situation in SAIPAN is known to only few even the US official who should know about it did'nt, considering that SAIPAN is a US soil or US Territory and unfortunately that US Official assigned there don't even know the existing Minimum wage wow shocking, So how can the people concern in the US do something to do what is needs to be done? And by the way do you think the US knows that the minimum wage here is also UNIQUE, that the minimum is applied to almost all categories of job, that skilled and unskilled are same in min. wage sometimes even the foreman,supervisor, housekeeper in the hotel have same wage and even X-ray Tech. is also offered $5.05/hr. What a UNIQUE situation.

Anonymous said...

You know what is interesting in this whole thing, is Kilili.
Nobody has heard a word from him in regards to any of this.
The only thing we hear about is the funding for many things that he works on to get.
Nothing even about the bill that he submitted in the past that would have covered some of the workers including the ones that are married to US Cit.

In my own personal opinion, in the interim, I like the idea of "documenting" and making these workers time "legal and applicable that they have lived and worked in the CNMI so this time can be used for ANY legal immigration status.
This in itself may have a better chance of passing than any permanent status before 2014.

Until after the US elections and the first year after, nothing will be done on any immigration bills.(even maybe after that time)

It may be much worse after the election depending on who is the US president.
(According to the recent news, Obama has slid 3 points behind in the polls in New )

I have sent numerous e-mails to Kilili on many various things over the years, one of them recently was requesting his ideas on what I have just expressed.

I have never received any type of reply from his office on anything.

Maybe I do not have the correct "connected" family name.
My family is not big enough to worry about the votes.

Anonymous said...

Hafa Adai Mam,

You have noticed this headline on Saipan newspaper today July 21, 2012. SCC is asking for an extention of Federal guests worker program. SCC president Mr. Douglas Brennan thinks, "Not enought time to replace all foreign workers by US citizen workers before Dec 31, 2014, the day federal worker program will end". SSC is requesting for a 5 year extention. I think, "SSC does not have a data how by next 5 years 12000 workers will be replaced by US citizen workers".

SCC 's target only to use alien workers the way they used to use in the past during CNMI-DOLI system. I do not see them having a single option to improve our immigration status. But they express continue support to use us continuously. SCC wants to use us as long as they can under federal worker program.
I do not agree with Mr. Brennan.

Why do SCC and CNMI Governor not recommend to DHS to provide "Parole-in place/Employment work authorazation or green cards" to all legal alien worker in CNMI if they think alien workers are always needed? Why are they asking for more time? Why are they not considering us permanent workers instead of temporary workers? Where is the human dignity? Does SCC or CNMI Governor know how long does it take for an alien worker to be considered as a permanent worker? Where is the human equality?

I think, "Mr. Brennan is being influenced by governor FITIAL to go for this?". I am not a politician. But I think, "They are playing games with us". How long do they intend to play games with us? US Congress or Feds need to take some concrete action now.
We are all very sad with this news. Pray "God bless the United States of America !"

Anonymous said...

Hafa Adai Mam,

You have noticed this headline on Saipan newspaper today July 21, 2012. SCC is asking for an extention of Federal guests worker program. SCC president Mr. Douglas Brennan thinks, "Not enought time to replace all foreign workers by US citizen workers before Dec 31, 2014, the day federal worker program will end". SSC is requesting for a 5 year extention. I think, "SSC does not have a data how by next 5 years 12000 workers will be replaced by US citizen workers".

SCC 's target only to use alien workers the way they used to use in the past during CNMI-DOLI system. I do not see them having a single option to improve our immigration status. But they express continue support to use us continuously. SCC wants to use us as long as they can under federal worker program.
I do not agree with Mr. Brennan.

Why do SCC and CNMI Governor not recommend to DHS to provide "Parole-in place/Employment work authorazation or green cards" to all legal alien worker in CNMI if they think alien workers are always needed? Why are they asking for more time? Why are they not considering us permanent workers instead of temporary workers? Where is the human dignity? Does SCC or CNMI Governor know how long does it take for an alien worker to be considered as a permanent worker? Where is the human equality?

I think, "Mr. Brennan is being influenced by governor FITIAL to go for this?". I am not a politician. But I think, "They are playing games with us". How long do they intend to play games with us? US Congress or Feds need to take some concrete action now.
We are all very sad with this news. Pray "God bless the United States of America !"

Wendy Doromal said...

Anonymous 9:14

Thank you for your comment. You make some good points. The Chamber, the politicians and everyone in power want to maintain the status quo. They like having a permanently disenfranchised underclass to push around and maintain total power over. They love the cheap, replaceable labor. They know the foreign workers can be cheated and lied to because under this system there is no way out for the workers. After the financial investment and personal sacrifice the foreign workers have made to work in the CNMI, most do not want to just walk away so they take the abuses and tolerate wage theft. The federal program, like the old CNMI program, invites exploitation and corruption. This is an unacceptable program that is one step above slavery. The fact that it is administered by the United States makes me sick and ashamed.

There will not be 12,000 locals trained to do the work in our lifetime, or maybe never. This un-American, unjust program will be renewed and renewed if that is their criteria. We need elected officials who possess moral compasses and can view foreign workers as future citizens.

The only just solution is to grant the legal, long-term foreign workers permanent residency.

Anonymous said...

anyone who truly thinks this island needs 12000 CWs does not have any idea of what is going on here. there is no need for 12k workers, at least not a critical need for 12k workers. how many "stores" do we need?? one on every corner??? each one submitting up to 10-15 CW applications??? USCIS is doing its job in accordance to with the CNRA, adjudicating applications for the temporary CW visa and approving only those that meet the guidance found in regulations. No one is going to get blanket parole and those who have parole better have paid for and received work authorization, a separate application and fee. Failing to do that puts some one in violation of their parole and at risk of deportation. USCIS is documenting the thousands of cases of attempted fraud both in "marriages" and "employement" based visas. The window is closely so time to look eleswhere especially since it seems a lot of people here think this place is truly awful. If so there is nothing stopping them from going anywhere in the world. If you are sticking around here 'waiting' for something to happen then you are in for a long wait and in the meantime DHS is out there looking u will get caught.....that is there job and i hear they are good at it....

Anonymous said...

July 18,2012,1;18PM You are right, Mr. Kilili is responsible for this. He even use this LOW Min. wage as the reason why the Local People doesn't want to work in private company and I think he even support the move to suspend the yearly increase of 50 cents. last year. I'm sure he's aware that this min. wage is not a livable wage but never heard from him and the CNMI Leaders. So HOW WOULD YOU BELIEVE THEM WHEN THEY SAY, WE WORK FOR THE GOOD OF OUR OR MY PEOPLE? Just asking.

Anonymous said...

its time to bring this all news to CNN and UN..its badly to say its going on USA soil...Ms.wendy could you guys reach to CNN and UN for this please...let them know what is going on...its an shameful for each americans....its time to change now....where is human dignity/rights in USA ? its an totally abused/discriminated process of federalization of CNMI by USA.
please stop it ,,,,,,,,,,,we are also human and you are also human..
god bless USA.

Anonymous said...

Tinian is a chinese government operation, which Fitial is aware of, and COP is wanted by Willie Tan for a hotel/casino operation and will get the lease from this govt cheap.