Despite being already in the throes of a labor shortage in the construction trades, the CNMI is expected to lose even more workers—over a thousand—if no solution is found to keep them legally on island.
A bill that Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) introduced in U.S. Congress to resolve the situation, H.R. 559, remains pending with the Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship.
According to press secretary Kevin Bautista, the Torres administration has done its part in lobbying the U.S. government to reverse the decision of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to stop the categorical parole program.
“The administration has pleaded with federal partners since October last year before the first deadline last December,” he said when sought for comments.
Gov. Ralph DLG Torres even appealed the USCIS decision last October to former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and also asked Sablan to work on a legislative fix in the U.S. Congress.
According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, there are 1,038 individuals who will lose their categorical parole status and employment authorization documents after the June 29 deadline.
USCIS discontinued the program in December last year. Besides foreign workers, the decision also affects immediate relatives of U.S. citizens and other stateless individuals, CNMI permanent residents and their IRs, IRs of Freely Associated States citizens (the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau), and caregivers of CNMI residents.
USCIS gave them a 180-day window to either get another legal status to continue working in the CNMI or be forced to leave by June 29. Their status remains in limbo.
Foreign worker advocate Itos Feliciano has called for several meetings with his fellow categorical parolees. The group is reportedly planning to file a class action lawsuit.
Feliciano had sought the assistance and counsel of Samuel Mok, and declined to give further information as per advice of his lawyer.