One of the recommendations Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and his team will make to federal officials in Washington, D.C. is that immigration officials amend their 2016 cut down on contract workers allowed in the Commonwealth to a reduction of one, from its original cut of 1,000 worker permits, Saipan Tribune learned Friday.
Torres officials believed the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has unilateral authority in their administrative regulations to go back and adjust the cap so long as the cap is below the previous years. They have to reduce the cap to zero by the end of the CW program in 2019 pursuant to federal law. For 2016, USCIS cut the CW cap by 1,000.
If the recommendation is effected, it would reverse the current cap to allow a number of 13,998 workers in the NMI, from the current 12,999.
This recommendation, among about 10 recommendations to be proposed in the nation’s capitol on the immigration issue, have been described as “administrative fixes” that USCIS could agree to ease the adverse effects of it’s decision to reject CW petitions received after May 5 and have these rejected workers and their families leave the CNMI no longer than 10 days after their permits expire.
Business and labor groups approximated last Thursday that this decision has affected 1,300 workers—or 15 percent of the total workforce in the day-to-day businesses of the NMI—and would force them to leave the NMI between now and the end of the fiscal year in October.
Notably, the recommendation to amend the 2016 cap reduction was also broached by the NMI Society for Human Resource Management in a “position paper” published in newspapers last week. SHRM recommended that USCIS “reconsider the 2016 cap and revise the drop from the 2015 cap to just 1 instead of 1,000 considering the adverse effect the 1,000 decrease is having on our economy.”
The Torres panel is also set to make recommendations, among others, that USCIS show a preference or priority for longtime contract workers in processing permits and to discourage and remove from processing contract worker permits for workers that could be eligible for H-visa categories, which the CNMI sees no cap for, Saipan Tribune learned.
Before departing to the nation’s capitol last week, officials heavily involved in strategy for the 902 talks with the White House special representative Esther Kia’aina and her team have been finalizing what they call two “position papers”—one for one the CNMI’s immigration and labor issue and the other on the issue of proposed U.S. military projects in the NMI—with background information and recommendations presented to the Kia’aina and her panel on these.
These recommendations have been described as the “asks” or what the CNMI wants to hammer out in whatever agreement emerges from these 902 talks.
For his part, Torres said that going into the 902 talks immigration would be “priority.”
“…We have critical issues with our labor and immigration. We have families that are being affected. Families that have been here and made these islands home. Families that have grown here, kids that are born here, going to school… Those are our priorities, to make sure we give as much attention as we can. Not just to protect them but a long-term solution,” he told reporters in an interview in his office on Capitol Hill on Thursday the day before he left for Washington, D.C.
Torres also downplayed any notions of “give and take” that might occur with the other proposed agenda on the table—U.S. military interests in Pagan and Tinian for live-fire training, saying that he has yet to hear “formally on a request” from the Department of Defense.
When asked to elaborate on a private conservation he had with Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) where the Sablan suggested that the CNMI may have to make some “major comprises,” Torres politely declined to elaborate.
But he said that Sablan “asked me some ideas that would see if I like to entertain. “…So I’d rather not say what the request is until have a better understanding as to where do we want to go with the request.”
Still, when asked if he though the contract worker issue is tied or would be tied to the military proposals, Torres said, “People tell me ‘yes.’ People tell me ‘no.’”
“For me,” he continued, “I know for sure that when we had our immigration that I never heard of anything in the manner of families and workers would be leaving the island, being deported, because they missed the deadline, or because being disapproved.
“These regulations that we have are regulations that we will have to abide whether we like it or not, it’s an imposed law,” Torres said. “We are trying to meet their rules and regulations and by doing so we are also asking them to give us to the resources.” Torres was referring to section 701 of the NMI Covenant on self-government.
“But we need also what we need for self-government and for our economy to run—we need our workforce. Sending our employees with families back home, is not the best way to have our government run successfully,” he added.