Clarifications sought on HR 559
Gov. Ralph DLG Torres met with over 200 Filipino workers last Saturday afternoon at the Marianas Business Plaza parking lot to accept a letter that urges the Office of the Governor to appeal to federal immigration authorities for deferred action on their pending CW cases, along with some concerns.
Specifically, the informal group is requesting for temporary relief through deferred action after citing a delay in the renewal processes because of new rules from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS, and clarification on the recently passed H.R. 559.
USCIS recently implemented new rules that require employers to secure Temporary Labor Certifications from the U.S. Department of Labor before applying for a CW renewal petition, effectively prolonging the CW renewal processing.
“We politely request your good office to come to an agreement with USCIS to provide temporary relief in the form of deferred actions for those who will eventually accrue unlawful presence here in the CNMI due to the untimely submission of their CW-1 renewal application,” the letter, dated Aug. 17, 2019, said.
The CW group—composed mostly of long-term Filipino workers under the CNMI-Only Transitional Worker program—noted in their letter that the delays stemmed from employers being reportedly told to “hold off in submitting renewal petitions for their CW-1 workers” until the CNMI Prevailing Wage Survey, or PWS, was released.
“While the first round of the [PWS] was released in May , many employers and CW-1 employees had to wait until July  for the release of the second round of the PWS, delaying the renewal process even further for those workers,” the letter noted.
In an interview with the governor, he told Saipan Tribune that while there was a short question-and-answer portion during the meeting, he reached out to the group primarily to hear their concerns.
“…Now, I officially got their letter [with their] concerns and I would write a letter and perhaps call [Washington, D.C.] and find out the status of their concern and hopefully rectify [this] before Sept. 30, 2019,” he said, adding that he did not want to provide a timeline for a response because of the time difference between Saipan and the U.S. mainland.
“…Our action and our concerns will be written out [today],” he assured. “It is important to address these concerns. Perhaps this might be something that [USCIS] have overlooked.”
The Saipan Chamber of Commerce told Saipan Tribune in a previous statement that several employers have been experiencing delays in the USDOL side of processing.
The letter to Torres also included a section inquiring whether H.R. 559 also applies to CW-1 holders, since many CW-1 holders meet the basic requirements for aliens described in the legislation.
H.R. 559 in general only pertains to the categorical parole program, which the USCIS terminated last December 2018. The legislation affected the 1,038 individuals. The legislation granted CNMI-only resident status to those under the program as well as Employment Authorization Document-holders.
“We…ask for clarification as to why CW-1 workers are considered ineligible to apply for CNMI resident status as described in H.R. 559, despite most long-term guest workers meeting the requirements of the aliens described in [the legislation],” the group asked Torres.
Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan’s (Ind-MP) H.R. 560, the Northern Mariana Islands Residents Relief Act, provides a Commonwealth-only resident status to those who have been in the CNMI legally for a long time.
Sablan told Saipan Tribune in late June 2019 that the bill still lacks support to gain traction in the U.S. Congress. No action has been recorded on the bill since its introduction, according to the U.S. Congress website.