Marianas Variety

Tuesday, September 2, 2014-3:20:04P.M.

Last updateTue, 02 Sep 2014 12am

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CW advocates say nonrenewal hurts US citizen children

GUEST worker advocates say they’ve been getting requests for assistance from nonresidents whose CW permits have not been renewed by the federal government.

According to Boni Sagana, Itos Feliciano and Hector Sevilla, “hundreds” of guest workers and their U.S. citizen children are adversely affected by the federal authorities’ decision.

“This may result in the mass exodus of guest workers or their unlawful presence in the CNMI if their employers do not file an appeal,” the advocates said.

Early last year, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services regional media manager Marie Therese Sebrechts said 91 petitions had been denied involving 181 nonresidents.

The guest worker advocates said the number of denied CW renewal applications continues to increase. “We do not know why,” they said. “Those workers are working for the same employers.”

Because some of these workers are parents of U.S. citizen children, “if their parents are told to leave the island, the kids will be severely affected — they will be deprived of the education, health and basic services provided by the federal government to other U.S. citizens,” they said.

On Thursday, guest worker advocates sought answers from the USCIS office on Saipan.

They wanted to know if USCIS could extend the 30-day period for filing a new petition if a foreign worker is terminated from employment or if his/her CW application/renewal has been denied.

“The 30-day grace period is too short,” they said, adding that the filing of a petition and processing the application usually takes months.

They were told by USCIS that U.S. congressional action is needed to change the regulation on the 30-day period.

USCIS also told them that once the CW application has been denied the foreign worker cannot apply for a parole and can only remain lawfully in the CNMI until the 30-day period ends.

The advocates said if the employer petitions for an H-1B visa, then the foreign worker can remain in the CNMI if his or her application is approved.

Guest worker advocates Boni Sagana and Itos Feliciano show the list of U.S. citizen children and their parents who  have attended the meetings of 4K Voices.  Photo by Junhan B. Todiño
But besides being costly, it requires higher pay levels and is still subject to USCIS scrutiny and approval. H1-B visa applications will not cover all of the current job categories occupied by CNMI guest workers.

According to regulations, an H1-B visa is for “specialty occupations” requiring “theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge in a field of human endeavor including but not limited to biotechnology, chemistry, architecture, engineering, mathematics, physical sciences, social sciences, medicine and health, education, law, accounting, business specialties, theology, and the arts, and requiring the attainment of a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent as a minimum….Likewise, the foreign worker must possess at least a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent and state licensure, if required to practice in that field.”

The advocates said the CW status of guest workers “should not go down to the parole-in-place level but should go to the next level, H-1B, then to green card and ultimately to U.S. citizenship.”

But that requires passage of a new law in the U.S. Congress. The Republican leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives recently reiterated that they do not intend to pass the immigration reform bill already approved by the U.S. Senate.

Feliciano, in a separate interview, said the Philippine government should be aware of the immigration status of the Filipino workers in the CNMI.

“Why do they keep sending workers here? Some companies and employers in the CNMI continue to hire Filipino workers, yet they know about the cap on foreign workers in the local workforce,” he said.

He urged the Department of Labor and Employment in the Philippines to stop “sending” workers to the CNMI.

He said CNMI employers should also stop getting workers abroad and instead hire those already here but whose CW applications or renewals have been denied.

The Philippine government, however, cannot “send” Filipino workers to the CNMI. Only the U.S. government has authority to allow the entry of foreign workers to the commonwealth.