I take my job seriously

Posted on Dec 01 2011
[I]Editor’s Note: The following story, as related to Frank Gibson, is part of a continuing series of stories related to the effects of the new federal immigration policy, as seen from the perspective of people who will be affected by those chan[/I]ges.

I take my job seriously. As the director of Employment Services for the past 13 years, my official mission, and my personal intent, has been to help as many qualified U.S. workers as possible to find employment here in the Commonwealth. Sometimes I think we get a bad rap at Employment Services. Yes, we have laws and regulations to follow and that includes primary preference for U.S. citizens, CNMI permanent residents, and U.S. permanent residents. There is also a secondary preference requirement for FAS citizens. There is nothing abnormal about this. The same employment requirement exists in the mainland U.S. An employer must consider and hire qualified U.S. workers before obtaining a visa and hiring an alien worker. That’s the law, both here and there – and that’s my job: to help employers and job seekers link up for their mutual advantage.

I know “alien” is the correct term, but it makes me think of “Alf” and less friendly creatures with big eyes, tentacles and claws. I’d rather use “foreign workers.”

But…does that mean that our office is of value to U.S. workers only? Of course not. We maintain a website that lists job vacancies by those companies who choose to use it. There is no longer a legal requirement that employers use it, but it’s free and gets the job out there. So, why not? Not only is it free to the employers, it is freely accessible by any job seeker, citizen or foreign worker.

Our mandate allows us to only register qualified U.S. workers and put them on our notification list for possible jobs. That’s our purpose for being—to help these folks find jobs. We counsel them, help them with their resumes, explain our procedures, and refer them to job vacancies for which they qualify. We try to arrange training. We occasionally hold job fairs. The one last month was successful. We had close to 500 workers in attendance and got their applications out to 27 participating employers. We know that at least 31 workers were employed as a result of the Job Fair. That may not sound like a large number, but we are happy with successes both large and small.

The Department of Commerce has recently received a grant for the purpose of providing training to qualified U.S. workers to help get them into jobs. We hope to be working with those organizations and agencies to identify good candidates for the training. Again, our job is to help both employers and job seekers get together.

These last few months were difficult for all of us. I can honestly say that we were not prepared to deal with it in the short notice that we had. The number of jobs being advertised, both on our website and in the newspapers, possibly half of the jobs in the Commonwealth, overwhelmed us. With the staffing that our Office has, we were unable to pursue even a fraction of the advertised jobs. The Job Fair and some selective referrals were the best we could do. We did advertise the upcoming availability of these positions and the preference due to U.S. qualified workers, both to the individual businesses and in the newspaper.

Yes, we know that the businesses grossly overstated the qualifications for their positions in order to keep their current employees. Yes, we know that, in many cases, the interviews were perfunctory, just going through the motions, with no intent to hire. Yes, we know that many of the professional jobs were processed as CW-1s instead of H-1Bs to avoid paying a proper salary. These are violations of the Final Rule and federal USCIS regulations. We are going to leave that to the federal agencies to handle.

Not all employers did that, however. Many made sincere efforts to follow the law and it resulted in the employment of local workers. I appreciate that. No one with any decency takes pleasure in the fact that others had to lose jobs for this to happen, but it is the law, has been the law, and should have been worked out to a proper balance much earlier than now.

We are already planning for the next go of this process in 2012. We hope to work with employers in the upcoming months to identify the positions that are filled by foreign workers and try to match qualified U.S. workers to those jobs. I want to put an emphasis on “qualified.” We don’t want to waste anyone’s time trying to misplace a worker into a position that they are not qualified to perform. At the same time, employers have to accept that they have a responsibility to provide some training, especially in an entry-level position or one that can be easily or quickly learned. Also, new hiring is usually done at a minimum qualification level, not the “masters” level advertised recently.

We want to work with the employers. This isn’t an “us” against “them” sort of thing. Neither is it an “us” against “foreign workers.” Where there is a need for a foreign worker to fill a position where no U.S. worker meets valid qualifications, our office has no problem with it. If the position can be filled by a local worker, then the businesses should be following both CNMI and federal laws and filling it locally. Let’s face facts. We don’t have enough U.S. qualified workers here in the CNMI to fill all of the current employment needs. Let’s get all of those that we have that can work employed. Then there is no conflict with filling the remaining needs with foreign workers.

Work with me. Work with my office. Our job is to help you fill your positions and help qualified local workers to get and stay employed. Remember, we both have a deadline of Dec. 31, 2014. Together we can do this.

Let’s both take my job seriously.

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