Many nonresident workers employed by the Commonwealth Health Center are still waiting for the approval of their work permit applications that were filed over a year ago with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. CEO Juan N. Babauta disclosed to Saipan Tribune that, as of Friday, only 36 applications have so far been approved by USCIS. The corporation filed 120 CW applications for its foreign employees.
In 2009, USCIS created the Transitional Worker visa classification for the CNMI. This visa classification arose from the Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008, which extended certain provisions of U.S. immigration laws to the CNMI effective Nov. 28, 2009.
In order to gain CW status, an employer like the corporation must sponsor the employees for the status by filing petitions for a nonimmigrant worker with USCIS.
Since December 2011, the corporation filed CW applications for 120 non-immigrant workers, mostly for nurses at the Commonwealth Health Center, Tinian Health Center, and Rota Health Center, according to Babauta.
To his dismay, only a few have so far been approved by the federal immigration agency despite complying with all the requirements and documentations.
Babauta said the long wait for the approval and processing of the workers' documents is an indication of the slow process employed by USCIS.
“This is causing uncertainty not only to the affected employees but to the public hospital as well because these worried workers are the critical staff of CHC. It's very disappointing that after a year of filing, we only got 36 approvals to date,” Babauta told Saipan Tribune.
Pursuant to USCIS directive, a non-immigrant worker with pending CW application may continue to work. However, a new USCIS policy states that a foreign worker with a pending CW renewal application is not allowed to work until the petition is approved. Because of this situation, this creates instability among affected hospital employees.
Babauta said that USCIS must provide some consideration for hospital employees on island. Without such consideration for CHC employees, healthcare services on the islands will be put at risk, he added.
The public hospital is still striving to address deficiencies cited by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.