The CNMI Department of Labor has confirmed that CNMI Long-Term Resident applicants who have recently received their Employment Authorization Documents are no longer eligible to receive pandemic unemployment assistance.
In an interview with CNMI Labor Secretary Vicky Benavente, she said that even if an individual whose CNMI Only Transitional Worker visa—or CW-1 visa—remains active but has recently received an EAD from their Long-Term Resident application, they will no longer be qualified for unemployment assistance under the PUA program starting from the day their EAD was approved.
“We’re going to go with the most recent status. We can’t have two statuses. We will go by whatever their current active employment status is,” she said.
Benavente said even if a PUA claimant submits their CW-1 visa and chooses to withhold their recently acquired EAD, it is part of the adjudication process to verify an individual’s immigration status with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Department of Homeland Security.
“We verify the PUA claimant’s most recent status with federal sites, whatever it is, and that’s what we go by. Before, the same process took us three to five days, now because they’re so overwhelmed, it’s taking a week to two weeks to get it verified,” she said.
Benavente said it is unfortunate situation for those who are affected and the CNMI administration has tried reaching out to the U.S. Department of Labor to ask it for consideration, to no avail.
“Unfortunately, this is something that we have asked, the governor has asked, we have asked for reconsideration for our EAD workers. And when we sent that request, I believe a couple of months ago, we did not receive an official response,” she said.
Although the department wants to help everyone who is suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic, Benavente said they still need to follow strict mandates so as not to jeopardize other federal funding that the CNMI receives.
“We’ve always tried to help all claimants but we still have to follow every mandate from the USDOL. It is difficult because we want to help everyone who’s in a situation of unemployment, unemployed or reduce hours. Unfortunately, the law says, in particular, CW-1 qualifies but not EADs,” she said.