November 5, 2013
Dozens of nonresident employees of several CNMI companies have been trying to survive in the CNMI with no income for months because of an inhumane policy of the CNMI-Only Transitional Guest Worker Program. The punitive USCIS policy states that nonresident workers can remain in the CNMI, but cannot work after their original CW-1 permit expires until the time that the renewal permit is in their hands.
The renewal policy was announced even as 3,190 employees were still waiting to receive the original permits. Workers waited 7 or more months for original permits to be processed under this poorly executed program.
The three major business groups in the CNMI: the Chamber of Commerce, the Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands and the Society for Human Resources Management-CNMI, jointly petitioned USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas in December 2012 to request that nonresident CW-1 workers be allowed to continue working with their employers until their renewal permits were processed or declined. USCIS rejected the proposal.
The nonresident workers have no control over the renewal process. It is their employers who must complete and submit the petition for a CNMI-only nonimmigrant transitional worker, pay an application fee of $325, and pay a CNMI education funding fee of $150. Then they have to wait 90 or more days for approval.
While the USICIS urged companies to file early, for whatever reason, some did not. Nonresident workers of G4S, the World Resort and I Love Saipan are among those who were without work for months and experienced or are experiencing severe financial difficulty. These companies submitted paperwork for renewal for their employee's CW-1 permits close to the time of the renewal.
One worker told me he is at day 92 without work and the struggle to support his family is unbearable.
What is the rationale behind the USCIS policy that allows employees to suffer because their companies waited until the 11th hour to file for the renewal CW permits? Does this agency even have a clue what it is like to live without pay for 90 or more days?
The affected nonresidents do not qualify for any public assistance program and many lack any support network. Such a policy is inhumane.
In an earlier interview on the topic, Gulick was quoted by the Saipan Tribune:
If the employer files the renewal applications at least 90 days prior to the expiration of the original permit but USCIS has not been able to make a decision on the renewal application past the expiration date, then the employee still needs to stop working to comply with the rules and law.
Gulick said it could be an opportunity for the employer to allow the worker to go on vacation while the renewal application is pending.What universe does Gulick live in? What worker who earns $5.55 hourly and is supporting a family can afford a vacation for three months or more? Those few nonresidents who can afford to take a vacation when their permit has expired could also face problems re-entering the CNMI as other workers have experienced.
The nonresident workers who still have not received their renewal CW permits and continue to have no income have had their electricity shut off, their cellular phone service disconnected, are facing eviction, and are scrounging for food. Most of these nonresidents workers have lived in the CNMI a decade or longer.
Employers are also at a disadvantage because they must replace the skilled employees with workers from manpower agencies or with unskilled residents while their employees' CW-1 renewal permits are being processed. Imagine the time it takes to train these temporary workers and the loss that these businesses suffer.
USCIS District Director David Gulick and the other USCIS bureaucrats should develop some empathy and put more thought into this guest worker program that has been a plan-as-you-go project. It is scary that some people suggest that this extremely flawed program could be a model for a U.S. guest worker program. That thought makes me shutter.
It used to be that the United States was the country that provided humanitarian assistance world-wide. It is sad that our country is now the cause of the hardship and suffering of the nonresidents –the CNMI's de facto citizens– and their innocent children. This policy must be changed immediately so that no nonresident employees or employers have to experience hardship.
One way to correct this problem would be if USCIS required all employers to submit their renewal applications no later than 90 days before the expiration of the permit. This would allow time for renewal permits to be processed so that there would be no lapse in the expiration of the current permit and the receipt of the renewal permit. That way nonresident employees could continue working. (Updated 11-08-13)