Governor Eloy Inos is backing Congressman Gregorio (Kilili) Sablan's request to the U.S. Department of Labor to extend the CNMI-Only Transitional Worker Program by 5 years.
Hilda Solis resigned as U.S. Secretary of Labor in January 2013 and Deputy Secretary Seth D. Harris is currently serving as the department's acting secretary.
I understand why both officials want to extend to the program, despite its many flaws. Without the estimated 12,000 skilled nonresident workers, the CNMI economy would surely collapse. The nonresidents workers make up over 70% of the private sector workforce. A removal of them would produce immediate and dire consequences for the economy, individual business and for the nonresidents and their families who consider the CNMI their home.
If, for some reason, comprehensive immigration reform does not pass this year, or if a provision to grant status to the legal, long-term nonresidents workers is not included in any immigration bill, then an extension of the program would make sense.
What makes more sense is to push for permanent residency status for the legal, long term foreign workers who are already loyal de facto permanent residents of the United States.
The Saipan Tribune stated that Governor Inos was on the same page as Congressman Sablan as far as immigration issues. This is good news for the nonresidents and good news for the CNMI. It is a big change from the bitter opposition that former Governor Fitial presented to almost every move that Congressman Sablan made in the last Congress.
From the Tribune:
“We need to make sure that what we plan to do is consistent with what our congressman is doing over there. Once we start different paths then that's just going to create more problems for any assistance that might be heading our way,” Inos added.
Sablan also plans to reintroduce a more inclusive version of his H.R. 1466, seeking a CNMI resident status to certain groups of long-term nonresidents. This time, however, the bill could be crafted to provide pathway to U.S. citizenship.Congressman Sablan is definitely on the right track and having the support of the governor could result in success.
The CNMI-Only Transitional Guest Worker Program is so flawed that if it is actually renewed it must be immediately modified to benefit the nonresident workers, the employers and the economy. It should not be extended in its current defective form.
For those of us who thought labor abuses would end under the federal program, we can just look at long-time abuser, the Tinian Dynasty Hotel and Casino to remind ourselves of how wrong we were. This business has practiced wage theft and abuse for years, and despite being fined and exposed, it still is practicing blatant wage theft.
Tinian Dynasty employees informed me yesterday that the business finally paid the nine weeks back wages that foreign workers were owed in order to qualify under USCIS policies to apply for CW permits. However, now that most were approved, the business is again five weeks behind in paying the foreign workers. From an employee:
"Last September 2012, our salary was updated and the company gave all their balance amounting to 9 payrolls.That was worth millions of dollars that the company owed to us.That was a big celebration for all the employees and our families as well. The company was forced to release our salary because it is a requirement in order for the USCIS to process our CW."
"Now comes 2013 and most of our CW's are already approved and arriving. Now, tragedy comes to us, [as] we're running to 5 payrolls again. We're back to basic again and the casino is operating at its peak now with so many high rollers playing. I wonder why the company can't pay us."Of course, this business should pay the nonresident workers every penny that they are owed and on time. The Tinian Dynasty cheats its nonresident workers because it can get away with it. Where are the consequences? The U.S DOL needs to fine this business with a large enough fine to teach it a lesson and set an example for other businesses. The USCIS needs to stop allowing this business to hire foreign workers until it can follow labor laws.
Foreign workers employed by some other large and small CNMI employers have also reported that they are victims of wage theft and labor abuses. But just like when they were under the dysfunctional CNMI-run guest worker program, they are afraid to complain because they fear that they will lose their jobs if they do.
Let's hope that both Governor Inos and Congressman Sablan will push for permanent residency status and for a reformed CNMI-Only Transitional Guest Worker Program, if the program must be renewed.
It would be beneficial if the nonresident workers and businesses started to document the problems with the CNMI-Only Transitional Guest Worker Program so that they can be investigated and corrected.