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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center

With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Federalization Issues Disappoint CNMI Businesses
Current eligibility of foreign workers uncertain

By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Feb. 8, 2013) – The Saipan Chamber of Commerce, the Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Society for Human Resource Management-CNMI Chapter are lamenting federal agencies' slow response to concerns raised as early as 2011 related to the federalization of immigration, including whether the transition period will be extended beyond Dec. 31, 2014, and whether transitional Commonwealth-only workers could continue working while the renewal of their CW permit is pending.

The three business groups sought this week the help of Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) in addressing their concerns with federal administrative offices "that must administer to our businesses and lives."

These federal agencies include the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and its U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and the U.S. Department of Labor.

Sablan confirmed yesterday that he received the Chamber letter on Wednesday and that he will respond to it once he thoroughly reviews the concerns raised.

Of immediate concern to the business groups is for USCIS to allow CW permit holders to continue working while their application for permit renewal is still being processed by USCIS.

The three groups wrote to USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas on Dec. 20, 2012.

"We have not received any response from USCIS concerning our request for consideration," Chamber president Alex Sablan, HANMI chair Nick Nishikawa, and SHRM chair Maria Luisa Ernest said in their three-page letter to Sablan.

They said communication from employers and employees under the CW-1 permit process increases every day as the initial permits granted have expired and the applications for renewal have yet to be issued.

"Hotels, small businesses, and our Chamber member firms and all their employees are hard pressed to adjust to the lack of service needed and the very payroll the employees depend upon," they told the delegate.

The second major issue raised is the lack of response from U.S. Labor to the letters sent in 2012, asking a "definitive response" to the question whether the transition period for CW-1 permitting would be extended beyond Dec. 31, 2014.

Without the extension, the CNMI could lose access to some 12,000 skilled and professional foreign workers, mostly from Asian countries such as the Philippines, China, and Korea.

"We can only wonder what businesses will need to prepare for or to run their businesses and provide for themselves and those they support," the business groups said.

The third issue is about a proposed retirement visa program as provided for in U.S. Public Law 110-229, the law that placed CNMI immigration under federal control.

The business groups said in August 2011, at the Chamber's request, Gov. Benigno R. Fitial wrote to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano requesting consideration in establishing a CNMI-only retiree visa program as allowed under the law.

The Chamber wrote a letter in July 2012 to Napolitano, following up on the governor's 2011 letter.

As far as the business groups are concerned, none of the letters have been answered.

"These three examples of what we are experiencing with the implementation of federal immigration and foreign labor law are just some examples of what we see as situations that can be remedied to all parties' benefit. We cannot turn our backs on our own economic realities, and we must address the authority that dictates how we adjust to the new federal authority that administers the law we must follow," the business groups told the delegate.

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