On June 25, 2019, H.R. 559, The Northern Mariana Islands Long-Term Legal Residents Relief Act, became Public Law 116-24. The bill was introduced in January 2019 by Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan, the CNMI’s representative in the U.S. Congress, but in reality it was a much longer time in the making. In 2008, when the law that eventually brought the immigration authority of the United States into the CNMI was being drafted, it originally included a provision to grant resident status to long term foreign workers in the CNMI. We expected that the federalization of immigration would have three distinct and necessary elements: (1) federal control of immigration; (2) increase in the minimum wage; and (3) status for long term alien workers. The element of status for long term alien workers was based on two grounds: the desire to retain stability in the CNMI workforce and the recognition of the contributions of foreign workers to the economic development of the CNMI. Unfortunately, as the result of compromises that are a necessary evil of the political process, the status for long term alien workers was negotiated out of the bill that became the Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-229, 122 Stat. 754).
Now, more than a decade after federalization, we have such a law. As with any piece of legislation that creates a right or a privilege, in this instance an immigration benefit, there are requirements and limitations. We summarize these below.
Who is eligible for CNMI long term resident, or LTR, status? The two doors
To determine eligibility, we think of an applicant as having to pass through two doors. To pass through Door No.1, you must fall into one of six classes:
1. Stateless—born in the CNMI between Jan. 1, 1974, and Jan. 9, 1978;
2. Immediate Relativs of Stateless – spouses and unmarried children under 21;
3. CNMI Permanent Resident on Nov. 27, 2009 (class closed in 1985, very few left);
4. IRs of Permanent Residents – spouses and unmarried children under 21 (unlikely to be children);
5. IRs of U.S. citizens – parent, spouse or child of any age; relationship must have existed on Nov. 27, 2011, and continued to the present;
6. In-home caregivers – must have had Caregiver Parole on Dec. 31, 2018.
To pass through Door No. 2, you must quality under every one of the following four conditions:
1. Lawfully present in the CNMI (including parole or deferred action) on either Dec. 31, 2018, or June 25, 2019;
2. Be admissible as an immigrant;
3. Resided continuously and lawfully in the CNMI from Nov. 28, 2009, through June 25, 2019;
4. Not a citizen of the Marshalls, the FSM, or Palau.
I fit through both doors. How do I apply for CNMI LTR status?
To implement the new law, USCIS has created a new form I-955, Application for CNMI Long-Term Resident Status (https://www.uscis.gov/i-955). This form must be filled out and filed together with Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization (https://www.uscis.gov/i-765). There is no filing fee for Form I-955; the filing fee for Form I-765 is $410 plus a biometrics fee of $85. You must file Form I-765, together with Form I-955, even if you do not intend to work. An application that does not include both forms will be rejected.
What evidence do I need to apply for CNMI LTR status?
Please be aware that the application for CNMI LTR status is very document intensive. Whether or not you qualify as a member of one of the six designated classes is fairly straightforward. We usually include identity documents for the applicant (passport, EAD, driver’s license, etc.) and proof of membership in the relevant class. So that gets you through Door No. 1.
Door No. 2 is a bit more demanding. Of the six possible classes, we will only discuss the “IRs of U.S. citizens category,” since this is the class with the most members. We will discuss each requirement in turn:
1. Immediate Relative of a U.S. citizen: This category includes spouses, parents, and children of any age, provided that relationship existed on Nov. 27, 2011, and continues to the present. Spouses and parents of adult U.S. citizens are eligible for U.S. Permanent Residence (“green card”) and are unlikely to seek CNMI LTR status. Most applicants under this category will be parents of U.S. citizen children (born in the CNMI) before Nov. 28, 2011, but not old enough to sponsor their parents for green cards; we will discuss this sub-category only. To prove this element you will need to provide a certified birth certificate for your child, showing you as one of the parents, plus as many of the following as you can manage:
• Child’s passport (if any);
• Baptismal certificate (showing you as one of the parents);
• School records showing you as guardian of the child;
• Vaccination records showing you as guardian of the child;
• Medical records, showing you as guardian of the child;
• Tax returns showing you claimed the child as a dependent
• Family photos showing you and the child at different ages;
• Anything else that shows the relationship.
2. Lawfully present in the CNMI (including parole or deferred action) on either Dec. 31, 2018, or June 25, 2019: This element is fairly easy to prove, you were either in the CNMI on either of those dates or not, and either in lawful status or not. Some possible evidence would be:
• Your passport showing your last entry prior to the relevant date;
• Pay stubs showing you were working in the CNMI on that date;
• Rental receipt for the relevant month;
• USCIS documents (parole, CW approval, receipt of an application and the like) that cover the relevant date.
• I-94 (if you do not have a physical copy, you can download it from the CBP website, (https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/#/home)
3. Be admissible as an immigrant: This requirement is focused mostly on whether you have any criminal history and if you do, whether the crime you were convicted of would render you “inadmissible.” What you will need to do is get clearances from the CNMI Superior Court; the U.S. District Court and a traffic clearance. If you have no criminal record, you are probably good to go. If you do have a record, you must disclose it. This includes DUI and reckless driving. You will need to get certified court documents including the Information; the Plea Agreement (if any); the Judgment/Conviction; and probation clearance (if any). The conjunction of criminal law and immigration law is complex; if you do have any kind of criminal record, you would be well served to consult a professional.
4. Resided continuously and lawfully in the CNMI from Nov. 28, 2009, through June 25, 2019: This is probably the most burdensome element of the requirements. You need to prove both that you were present in the CNMI for a period of almost 10 years and that you were in status during that time. Please note that short absences from the CNMI (such as vacation, medical or family emergency) will not disrupt your “continued presence.” Possible evidence includes those required for No. 2, above and then some:
• Your passport showing entry and departure from the CNMI;
• CNMI Entry Permit (if it extended past Nov. 28 2009);
• Umbrella permit;
• Pay stubs showing you were working in the CNMI;
• USCIS documents (parole, CW approval, receipt of an application, EADs; Forms I-94, and the like);
• Employment verifications;
• Tax returns;
• Rental receipts;
• Utility and telephone bills;
• Social security contributions printout;
• Medical and dental records;
• Vehicle registration, ownership and insurance;
• U.S. citizen children’s birth, school, vaccination and medical records;
• Banking records (will need letter from the bank showing how long you’ve had the account);
Marital records for the relevant period, if you got married or divorced between the relevant dates in the CNMI.
Again, you need not produce every one of these documents, but the more evidence you submit, the better your chances of approval.
5. Not a citizen of the Marshalls, the FSM or Palau: A copy of the photo page of your current home country passport will suffice.
The filing deadline for applying for CNMI LTR status is Aug. 17, 2020. Please remember, the deadline refers to the date USCIS must receive your application, not the date you mail it. We recommend use of a courier service such as DHL, FedEx, etc., as the fastest way to send documents to USCIS. If you use the U.S. Postal Service, mail your application at least two weeks before the deadline, by either Certified Mail or Priority Mail (return receipt requested) and a tracking number. If things go wrong, you may have to prove your mailing; a certified receipt will give you that evidence. If you have a tracking number, you can and should, track your item’s progress. And always, when filing anything with the government, keep a complete copy of everything that you send.
The information contained in this column is intended as general information only, and not as individual legal advice. Readers should obtain professional legal advice before taking action with respect to their individual situations. Readers may submit questions regarding immigration issues to the authors by email to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org . Readers may also e-mail written questions through the Saipan Tribune at email@example.com.
Maya Kara and Bruce Mailman (Special to the Saipan Tribune)
Maya Kara is a native of Hungary and comes to the practice of law by way of her interest in Asian history. Bruce Mailman is a native of Bakersfield, California and was a private investigator in California prior to becoming a lawyer. Both have lived and practiced law in the CNMI for over 20 years, Maya in government service and Bruce in private practice. They are married and are partners in the law firm of Mailman & Kara, LLC in Garapan, Saipan.