HR 560 goes to House floor

Posted on Sep 20 2019


Photo taken from the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources website shows Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) during yesterday’s committee hearing on H.R. 560 and other bills. (CONTRIBUTED PHOTO)

After nearly eight months at the committee level, Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan’s (Ind-MP) H.R. 560 was pushed out of the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources yesterday with no opposition, setting the stage for the bill to be taken up on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.

H.R. 560, which proposes to provide permanent resident status to long-term foreign workers in the CNMI, or CW workers, was marked up at the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources early yesterday morning with only one amendment. Sablan’s amendment, which carried, removed sections of the legislation that included providing permanent resident status to immigration parolees in the CNMI.

With the enactment of H.R. 559, which provides resident status to immigration parolees, there is no longer a need for such language in H.R. 560.

“Today, H.R. 560 continues the work of smoothing over the rough places in the application of national immigration law to my isolated district,” Sablan said at the committee meeting.

“[H.R. 560] provides the same permanent status—in the Marianas only—that U.S. President Donald Trump approved for parolees in June,” he added, referring H.R. 559.

“This time, we want to give stability to a small group of investors who were there even before federal immigration. And we want to give the same certainty to a group of long-term workers—and to the businesses that employ them,” Sablan said.

Sablan introduced H.R. 560 on Jan. 15, 2019. It seeks to provide an improved immigration status to individuals who have lived in the CNMI since Nov. 28, 2009; is not a citizen of the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, nor the Republic of Palau; among a few requirements to be eligible for the status in the legislation.

Sablan told Saipan Tribune yesterday that, while there is no definite date yet on when the House intends to take up the bill for discussion on the House floor, he would “work very hard” to get the legislation through the House.

The bill, if passed, would provide improved status to over 2,875 long-term CW workers and 56 foreign investors in the CNMI.

Yesterday’s development on H.R. 560 was seen by many long-term workers in the CNMI as a spark of hope that, if it becomes law, would ease their fears of being away from their families and their livelihoods.

Many believe that an improved status that would allow them to stay and work in the CNMI would be “the best way for us longterm workers.” Most consider the CNMI their second home.

“We don’t have to worry for our jobs every year. At least with permanent resident status, we can work with peace of mind and provide for our families,” Saturnina told Saipan Tribune.

(Editor’s Note: Many of the foreign workers who agreed to be quoted in this story asked that their real names be withheld.)

Saturnina has been an accountant on Saipan since 2001. “I’ve been here for half my life,” she said. “I am really hopeful and still praying that H.R. 560 is enacted before Sept. 30, 2019 because we are really running out of time.”

Saturnina is one of 16 employees of a small business that supplies goods to retailers and merchandisers. To date, no one in their company has an approved CW-1 worker for fiscal year 2020 yet, Saturnina said.

Another long-term CW-1 worker, Ernie, has been on Saipan since 2006. He told Saipan Tribune that the convenience of freely entering and leaving the Marianas with peace of mind is ideal for both long-term workers and employers.

“I believe having a stable source of manpower for every business will instill peace of mind for everyone since it benefits the whole spectrum of residents in the Marianas due to the improved economic activity,” he said.

Ernie is actually in a precarious position now. In the company where he currently works, the management did not apply to renew his CW-1 permit, thinking it is too much work, now that there are additional requirements from the U.S. Department of Labor.

“My company is having trouble with complying with all of our salaries as stated in the prevailing wage, so they did not bother to renew my CW permit,” he said.

With his company’s decision to let go of all their CW-1 workers, Ernie will soon be out of work.

Jessica, who had been on Saipan since 1996 when she was just 24 years old, also hopes for a favorable outcome on H.R. 560. “Permanent resident status is important for me so that I won’t have trouble anymore with my employer every time it is renewal season,” she said.

“I arrived on Saipan at the age of 24. I am now 48. …Saipan is [now] my second home,” she said, adding that she was only able to visit her family in the Philippines four times in 24 years. “I am the breadwinner for my family, so I have to keep working for their sake,” she added.

Erwin Encinares | Reporter
Erwin Charles Tan Encinares holds a bachelor’s degree from the Chiang Kai Shek College and has covered a wide spectrum of assignments for the Saipan Tribune. Encinares is the paper’s political reporter.

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