WITH SEPT. 30 DEADLINE LOOMING
With a Sept. 30 deadline looming, employers of Filipino foreign workers in the CNMI have sought the assistance of the Philippine Honorary Consulate to the CNMI to appeal to the U.S. Department of Labor and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on their behalf and the thousands of CW-1 workers who are at risk of losing their legal immigration status by the end of this month.
There are only 18 days left from today to meet the Sept. 30 deadline in filing of immigration petitions for all CNMI-based CW-1 workers that will allow them to retain their immigration statuses. If no extension is granted, many will lose their legal status and there is a possibility of a mass exit of foreign workers. Employers fear that this will also result in further disruption of business operation that are already reeling from the impact caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last Wednesday, Sept. 9, about 18 employers met with Philippine honorary consul Glicerio “Eli” Arago, to urge the Philippine consulate’s intervention in reaching out to both USDOL and USCIS. In particular, the employers are asking for an extension to the filing period of CW-1 petitions that will allow for the CW-1 workers to remain legally in the CNMI.
“I have to admit it that we are faced with an impending workforce crisis. My meeting with several of our employers with CW-1 workers just gave us the true picture of their struggles and challenges in meeting the federal immigration guidelines,” Arago said. “Time is not on their side right now. They do not have any other remedy in sight, except…for our federal agency partners, which is the USDOL and USCIS, to hear their plight and grant them a reprieve by way of time extension.”
The 18 employers that met with Arago and his team last Wednesday represented over 300 foreign workers who are CW-1 visa holders. These employers are engaged in various business operation, ranging from food and restaurant, manpower, and remittance, to transportation, rentals, and printing operations, and educational institutions.
The employers are also concerned by the delay in the response time, processing, and other critical administrative requirements and procedures mandated by USDOL and USCIS.
They reported that, starting July, the prevailing wage determination issued by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Foreign Labor Certification are all tailored to Guam’s wage rates. The CNMI wage survey report remains uncertified by U.S. Labor as of today.
The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the situation, limiting the government’s business operations. It resulted in considerable delays in processing the Temporary Employment Certifications and Form ETA-9142C with the OFLC, from the issuance of the Notice of Acceptance for the employers to start online posting of job vacancy announcement with the CNMI Department of Labor, as well as the final issuance of the Temporary Labor Certification after filing the Recruitment Report.
The employers also said they have sent emails and follow-up telephone calls with the USDOL-OFLC, and that significant processing delays are already beyond their control. However, the delay will eventually impact the timely filing of immigration petitions with USCIS before the CW-1 status expiration date of Sept. 30, 2020.
This will leave affected foreign workers without valid status or temporary relief for continued stay and work beginning Oct. 1.
Kilili, Torres’ intervention
Arago wrote separately to Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) and Gov. Ralph DLG Torres yesterday, asking for their intervention on behalf of affected employers of CW-1 workers.
“At this time of unprecedented crisis, we seek your assistance to address these concerns with our federal agency partners,” Arago said in his letter.
Arago is optimistic that, with Sablan and Torres’ longstanding commitment and support of foreign workers’ roles in the Commonwealth’s economic development, the two federal agencies will grant the requested relief for a reasonable time to extend the filing period for CW-1 petitions that will extend the legal status of affected workers for their continued stay and work.
“Congressman Kilili and Gov. Torres have been our longstanding partners. They have been with us over the years, supporting one of the backbones of our islands’ economic development: our foreign workers.,” said Arago.
One of the employers who met with Arago last Wednesday, Eden Guillo-Ordas, pointed out that there is also a lack of education/information awareness campaign for employers such as webinars to understand the process of renewal and other USDOL requirements/guidelines.
“We end up repeating and restarting the process once we receive a denial. For TLC alone, the process takes about five months,” she said.
There are also other employers who are hesitant to re-do the process due to the fact that the prevailing wage determination is based on Guam’s labor sector.
D’Elegance Enterprises, Inc.’s representative, Irene Santiago, said her company is still waiting for an update on the recruitment report it submitted. The recruitment report is the final stage for the TLC.
“My company turned it in last July and up until now we have yet to hear a response. I am scared because Sept. 30 is almost here,” Santiago said. “If it is not approved, the affected employees will have to go home.”
Le Queen, Inc., a company engaged in manpower services, has the same fear. Last Wednesday, the company received a “denial” from the USDOL. The denial came less than 20 days before the Sept.30 deadline, its representative, Rene Reyes, disclosed.
“Our workers are all in danger of being sent home because of last-minute denials,” Reyes lamented. “We are appealing and praying for USDOL’s and USCIS’ understanding in granting us our request for extension. I hope that, with the help of Consul Arago, our appeal will be answered.” (PhilHonCon)