Acting governor Eloy S. Inos said yesterday that he acknowledges the need to extend for “at least” 60 days the Nov. 27 deadline for nonresidents-especially those who just recently lost their jobs-to prepare themselves and their family to exit the CNMI or for last-ditch efforts to find a job.
Inos said this is for “humanitarian consideration.”
He said he and Gov. Benigno R. Fitial, who was expected to arrive yesterday, will have to discuss this matter before a letter, for example, could be sent to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service or the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Fitial and Delegate Gregorio Kilili Sablan (Ind-MP) had said they would ask the U.S. Labor secretary to extend the transitional worker period ending in 2014.
“Actually I don’t see that the governor will really oppose that idea [at least 60-day extension]. He’s all for the welfare of these folks as well. He and I both know that the whole situation is not their choice. So we just need to be fair-minded about this thing, and give these folks time to make the right decision and plan for relocation of their families if in fact they cannot qualify to remain here. Doing the right thing is never a bad thing,” Inos said in an interview at the Marianas Visitors Authority’s general membership meeting at Fiesta Resort & Spa in Garapan yesterday.
Because of the economic downturn, many foreign workers recently lost their jobs, this close to the Nov. 27 deadline for employers to petition foreign employees for a CW or Commonwealth-only worker status.
Without a CW petition filed on their behalf by Nov. 27, foreign workers will lose their status and could face deportation.
Inos said he thinks that “at least 60 days” from Nov. 27 or up to Jan. 27 is “adequate” for those who just lost their jobs after many years in the CNMI “to be able to find job or to clear their affairs.”
Philippine Consul General Medardo Macaraig, in a separate interview yesterday, said a request for a 60-day extension is a “most welcome” move.
Macaraig said that nonresidents from the Philippines should consider this request, if and when granted, as an opportunity to prepare themselves and their families for their departure from the CNMI and not to have “false expectation.”
He said “sometimes having false hope is much worse than starting to prepare” for the inevitable.
Most foreign workers in the CNMI are from the Philippines.
Macaraig said the acting governor’s statement is a “positive sign that they’re also involved in the welfare” of nonresidents.
Nonresidents with U.S. citizen children, for example, would have to prepare their children who would be left behind and taken cared of by relatives and friends, or exit the CNMI with them.
Inos said he’s concerned “that at the 11th hour, we’re still scrambling,” and “we’re talking about potential displacement of folks who’re basically caught at the last minute and haven’t had the sufficient time to really think about how they’re going to move forward with this thing.”
He added that whatever the case may be, he thinks the “most appropriate route would be to allow additional time” so that these individuals can prepare.
The final worker regulations were released on Sept. 7.
Rene Reyes, president of Marianas Advocates for Humanitarian Affairs Ltd. or Mahal, said yesterday that Inos’ idea of asking for an extension of the Nov. 27 deadline is welcome news. He hopes the request to DHS should be made “very soon” because it’s nearing the Nov. 27 deadline.
“I think it’s enough time for people to prepare for their eventual exit,” he said.
Reyes said that families-especially those that will be separated-would want to spend Christmas and New Year together so an extension of the Nov. 27 deadline would be much welcome.
With Inos considering a request with DHS, Reyes hopes that the Fitial administration would take the step further by requesting President Barack Obama to use his administrative power to grant parole-in-place to nonresidents who have legally worked in the CNMI for at least five years to enable them to stay in the CNMI until Congress acts on the U.S. Interior Department’s recommendations to grant improved immigration status to long-term foreign workers.
This is similar to what United Workers Movement-NMI president Rabby Syed is asking the Obama administration. Syed is currently in Washington, D.C.
Rep. Ray Tebuteb (R-Saipan), for his part, said he is concerned about families that could be separated if and when the nonresident parents of U.S. citizen children are unable to find jobs by Nov. 27, and this is one of the reasons why he supported Sablan’s H.R. 1466, which seeks to grant CNMI-only resident status for limited groups of people in the CNMI.
Tebuteb said what Inos is proposing is “fair enough” to give some nonresidents additional time to prepare.
But just like the others interviewed yesterday, he said this request should be made at the soonest possible time.
USCIS grants parole or parole in place only to certain groups of people, and on a case-by-case basis.
USCIS district director David Gulick, in a recent news briefing, said USCIS cannot change the rules or laws for those who will be out of status after Nov. 27. These include those who don’t have employers and are not eligible for H1B or other INA visas.
Gulick was responding to questions about the fate of nonresidents who won’t be able to find a new employer by Nov. 27. “We expect them just like any other person who doesn’t have a job here, is not a citizen, to leave,” Gulick told reporters.
Reynaldo Perez, a concerned nonresident, said if and when Inos’ proposal comes to fruition, it would be a big help to many nonresidents who now have additional time to prepare themselves and their family.
For example, families would still be able to spend Christmas and New Year together.
“But on the other hand, why is the CNMI government doing this only now? And I hope this is not political posturing,” Perez added.
Meanwhile, Macaraig said yesterday that the Philippine Consulate General has been helping Filipinos who want to go back home, although there’s only a few of such repatriation requests.
He said 14 Filipinos made formal requests to be repatriated, and four of them have already been sent home while two are expected to leave in a few weeks.
Macaraig said the repatriation request rate may change right before or after Nov. 27.
“If we receive a lot of requests, we will have to prioritize. For example, we will send home first those with illnesses or the elderly,” Macaraig added.