U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has denied the request of CNMI employers to allow foreign workers to continue working while their CW permit renewals remain pending.
Employer and worker groups separately said yesterday that the “economic harm” continues as a result of the non-renewal of CW-1 permits in a timely manner and hope that this is not a final decision by USCIS.
USCIS continues to urge employers to file extension petitions at least 90 days before the expiration of CW-1 status.
USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas, responding this month to the Dec. 20 joint letters of three major employer groups in the CNMI, also said the agency is processing extension petitions in a timely manner to prevent delays that will cause a lapse in employment for CW beneficiaries.
He said the joint letter from CNMI groups “correctly noted that CW beneficiaries do not have continuing employment authorization during the pendency of an extension of stay petition.”
The Society for Human Resource Management-CNMI Chapter, the Saipan Chamber of Commerce, and the Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands had asked USCIS to allow foreign workers to continue working while waiting for the renewal of their CW permits.
But Mayorkas said USCIS is “not in a position to provide that authorization without a change to the applicable regulations, which is a complex and time-consuming process.”
“However, I can assure you that [USCIS] is doing what we can consistent with current law to address your concerns,” Mayorkas said in separate letters to SHRM, HANMI and Chamber.
Alex Sablan, Chamber president, said they appreciate Mayorkas' response but said “there has been, and continues to be, economic harm to employers and employees as a result of those not receiving their CW-1 permit renewals in a timely manner.”
“We are not as sympathetic to those employers that have not applied for their renewals 90 days prior to the expiration of their original permits, but for those that have executed in a timely manner, there has to be more than a letter from USCIS saying they'll try to minimize the possibility of lapse,” Sablan said.
Nevertheless, the Chamber will respond to Mayorkas, and “continue to work with elected officials here and in Washington, D.C., to seek relief as a result of the disappointing transition of immigration and foreign national employment authority under the CNRA,” Sablan added.
Some workers in a hotel, for example, were asked to stop working because they have yet to receive their CW permit extension at a time when tourism and hotel occupancy are picking up, said Rene Reyes, founding president of the Marianas Advocates for Humanitarian Affairs Ltd., last night.
Reyes said the hotel employer was forced to hire workers from manpower agencies to temporarily replace the CW-1 workers, which he said is not ideal for both the tourism industry, the employer, and the hotel workers.
“Now hotel employers have to hire those that don't have much experience working at hotels and this is not good for the important tourism industry. The CW workers who have been with the hotel for years are idle and are not paid, resulting in suffering for them and their family. This is lost income for them and it's not their fault,” Reyes told Saipan Tribune.
Maria Luisa Dela Cruz-Ernest, president of SHRM-CNMI Chapter, thanked Mayorkas for his response but said: “In SHRM's role of representing the CNMI community's human resource professionals and their companies and employees, we feel that it is necessary to emphasize that we still have a problem.”
“We still have workers who are forced to stay home when their visa extensions are not received in time. Any petitioner who receives a Request for Evidence (RFE) will most likely go beyond the visa expiration date even if the extension was requested 90 days in advance,” Ernest told Saipan Tribune.
She said SHRM understands the wording of the regulation and the limited authority of USCIS.
“However, there needs to be consideration of our fragile economy and the difficulties that the immigration switchover has caused. We are confident that the U.S. government can, in some way, provide us with some measure of relief. This will continue to be an ongoing problem. We do not wish to accept this as the final word of our USCIS friends. We have already followed up with a second letter on this matter and we urge the USCIS to find a way to assist us with this extremely serious problem,” Ernest added.
Mayorkas, in his two-page letter, said USCIS took account of the complexities presented by a variety of immigration situations in the CNMI in implementing the Consolidated Natural Resources Act or CNRA.
CNRA, or U.S. Public Law 110-229, placed CNMI immigration under federal control. The transition period ends on Dec. 31, 2014.
CW latest statistics
When asked for the latest statistics, USCIS deputy press secretary Marie Therese Sebrechts said that from Oct. 7, 2011, through March 12, 2013, USCIS approved 5,248 CW petitions consisting of 10,536 beneficiaries or workers.
This is 83 percent of the total number of workers petitioned, which is 12,632.
Some 1,914 employers submitted 6,288 I-129CW petitions.
Sebrechts said a total of 618 petitions were denied for a host of reasons, consisting of 862 beneficiaries.
There were also three petitions denied because of “fraud,” consisting of three beneficiaries.
As of March 12, USCIS had data entered 1,307 petitions for I-129 CW extension with the same employer, said Sebrechts. These petitions were filed by some 544 different employers.
As of March 12, there were 1,294 beneficiaries that were granted CW-1 extensions. This is 66 percent of 1,956 CW-1 workers sponsored in these petitions.