Hospital set to lose 18 nurses

Muna blames USCIS ‘inaction’

Eighteen nurses of the Commonwealth Health Center face the threat of being sent back home as their CW-1 visa expires on July 1, 2017 because of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ alleged inaction on the renewal employment petitions filed by CHC in the nurses’ behalf.

A meeting was held yesterday between Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. CEO Esther Muña and the 18 nurses at the CHCC conference room to discuss options available and in the meantime, to wait for the USCIS’ reply on their request that seek the 240-day CW-1 extension. The USCIS has less than two days before July 1 to respond to CHCC’s request.

Muña said, “The situation with these nurses, whose CW-1 permits expire on July 1, 2017, is we submitted their employment petitions last April 10, 2017 to USCIS with the objective of getting the nurses’ CW-1 visa renewed to allow them to work from Oct. 1, 2017 until Sept. 30, 2018.

“We have evidence that shows USCIS received the applications last April 10. The problem is the checks haven’t been cashed and basically there is no receipt.”

Knowing how critical and vital the positions are of the nurses in healthcare in the CNMI, CHCC filed a “bridge’ petition to USCIS last May 25, 2017. The timeframe is from July 2 to Sept. 30, 2017.

The objective of the bridge petition is to shorten the gap between the current expiration of the CW-1 visas on July 1 and the new permit period for these 18 nurses that will start in October 2017. In other words, if the bridge petition was allowed, the 18 nurses would have had continuous work and not disrupt the operations in the hospital.

“The petition was rejected by USCIS early in June 2017. Weeks later, USCIS came out with a 240-day relief to CW-1 visa holders and we immediately sought that,” said Muña.

“Our understanding is the USCIS needs the receipts from the employment petitions filed so that the nurses can avail of the 240-day extension. Again we filed in April, gave check payments, we have proof that they received the applications, and now the missing link here, the missing factor are those receipts.”

In order for the nurses to feel safe and secure with their jobs, Muña said “We are now simply asking USCIS to look for the box where the applications are, cash the checks for them to be able to give us a receipt so our nurses can acquire the 240-day extension.”

The CHCC and the nurses also urged USCIS to inform the U.S. Embassy in Manila about the 240-day CW-1 extension, not only for their benefit, but for other CW-1 visa holders from the Philippines.

“Another big concern is if they stay longer than July 1, we have some indication from the Philippines and other workers that the U.S. embassy in the Philippines does not recognize the 240-day extension given by USCIS to CW-1 visa holders. In other words, they will be considered ‘over-stayers’ and there is a risk for these nurses of not being able to come back. There has to be coordination between the USCIS and the U.S. embassy in the Philippines,” Muña said

“It is a serious decision, The fact that no decision has been made is really affecting us. We have done our part. We have submitted our application in April 10. We paid the fees they have not cashed it. All we need from them is their action on the matter and we are staying hopeful,” added Muña.

Bea Cabrera

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