Govt assures legal status of CHC nurses

Commonwealth Health Center nurses who remained in the CNMI after the expiration of their CNMI-only Transitional Workers visas last July 1, 2017, have been assured that their stay remains lawful.

This came about after their 240-day extensions were filed with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

In a statement last week by Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. CEO Esther Muña, she said, “We committed ourselves to this and we know that the governor, [Delegate Gregorio] Kilili [C. Sablan], and the entire CNMI government supports them, especially the community. We also offered our legal counsel to be with them when they face the consul in the U.S. Embassy.”

Last July 6, 2017, the House of Representative adopted House Resolution 20-12 that identified the nurses as heathcare professionals employed at CHC in critical positions because they work in the emergency room, operating room, neo-natal wing, and dialysis center.

HR 20-12 seeks to inform the U.S. Embassy to permit the re-entry of the nurses because they have been granted a 240-day extension to stay in the CNMI during the processing of their CW permit by USCIS.

The resolution further states that the CNMI House of Representatives affirms that the nurses did not overstay in the CNMI and USCIS encourages them to remain in the CNMI pursuant to direction from USCIS Honolulu District Director David G. Gulick, who has confirmed that the nurses and their dependents are eligible for the 240-day extension.

“What I promised to them as a group is we would deliver despite the fact that majority of them have left. So we are going to get them the documents that they asked for,” Muña said.

Gov. Ralph DLG Torres wrote a pledge of support for the re-entry of the nurses to the CNMI, citing that they are valued members of the healthcare workforce and that they play a key role in providing healthcare for the residents of the islands.

Fear of violating immigration rules and the lack of coordination between USCIS and the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines, where the latter is believed to be unaware of the 240-day extension USCIS granted CW-1 workers in CNMI, have left the nurses with niggling and persistent doubts about their immigration status.

Last week, CHCC expressed a desire to raise the salaries of its nurses as a primary means to attract and retain personnel.

According to Muña, CHCC is looking at the current salaries and looking at hiring more nurses. To date, CHCC is looking at hiring retired nurses and giving nurses EB-2 and H1-B visas to eligible employees.

MD: Commonwealth Health Center nurses have been assured that their stay remains lawful.

Bea Cabrera Author

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