Under current regulations the nonresident workers, who make up a majority of the CNMI's private sector workforce, must stop working the day their CW-1 permits expires. The law has had a devastating effect on businesses, employees and the economy with USCIS taking months to process the routine renewals applications.
The rule was proposed on May 12, 2014, but was not signed and posted in the Federal Register until January 15, 2016. According to the Federal Registry, the final rule goes into effect on February 16, 2016. From the final rule:
In this final rule, DHS also amends its regulations to authorize continued employment for up to 240 days for H-1B1, principal E-3, and CW-1 nonimmigrant workers whose status has expired, provided that the petitioner timely filed the requests for extensions of stay with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Such amendment will minimize the potential for employment disruptions for U.S. employers of H-1B1, principal E-3, and CW-1 nonimmigrant workers.Congressman Gregorio C. Sablan has been urging USCIS to clear the backlog of unprocessed CW-1 permits for months. Over 2,800 permits had been back-logged since last year. Last week Congressman Sablan visited the USCIS California Office where the CNMI's permits are processed to urge the clearing of the backlog.
The rule is another welcome band aid for a broken immigration system. The most sensible permanent fix that would help to solve the CNMI's skilled worker shortage would be to grant all legal long-term nonresident workers permanent residency status with a pathway to citizenship.