Being the agency that approves or turns down petitions for CNMI-Only Transitional Worker (CW-1) visas, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services should include the CNMI in the decision making process, said Senate President Arnold I. Palacios (R-Saipan), who pointed out that this was one of their recommendations to congressional leaders in the 902 report.
Palacios made the statement after USCIS announced on May 25 that the CW-1 numerical cap for fiscal year 2018 has already been reached. USCIS said they had already reached the maximum possible number of workers that could be granted CW-1 permits.
“That’s a dilemma that really needs to be resolved. How many reporters, construction workers, health workers, and those in the service industry do we need? In the hospital, do we need 200 nurses or foreign doctors who are U.S. certified?” asked Palacios.
He added that having the Department of Homeland Security and USCIS share data and other information would help the CNMI government plan for development that would sustain its economy.
“Where are the professionals and skilled categories that we really need? We don’t have the information since we don’t have access to that data. We have been requesting for DHS and USCIS to share the data, and the CNMI government included in knowing the services that could be provided to the community,” said Palacios.
“We should have a seat at the table and say we don’t need these types of categories as much as we need this. But the way the system is set up is whoever is the first and locks in those slots are the ones that are going to get [the visas].”
He said some companies even have their personnel hand-deliver their CW-1 petitions in California instead of sending them by mail or courier. “Bigger companies have the advantage, but how about the small ones? We’re in a quandary because, for example, we have a real case or situation of organizations that fall into the cracks.”
“Like [the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp.], why can’t we request USCIS that the CNMI government needs 250 registered nurses and allied professionals, and also private health clinics that provide essential and critical services to the community? Why should it be that other occupations are given priority?”
Palacios said that workers that the CNMI need most should be prioritized for CW-1 visas first, instead of the free-for-all that has been happening since the program was put in place.
“How many domestic helpers do we need versus accountants, versus nurses, versus reporters? If you look at the overall picture, where are our priorities?”
“What skills do we need? How many accountants, cooks, professional chefs, or chambermaids do we need? If we don’t have the ability to sit down with the folks that issue these permits, that control the slots, we have no control over our destiny and in terms of services that we get.”
Palacios said the proposal they included in the 902 report were collaboration and data sharing. “We requested DHS for more collaboration. To have the [CNMI Department of Labor] secretary and [a CNMI Society for Human Resource Management representative] be included since they are the driving force and see the need.”
He added that construction workers should not have been included in the CW-1 program. “Are we going to need 2,000 construction workers two years from now? I don’t think so. We’ve basically peaked our ability to provide for the most basic infrastructure, so we need to step back again and go after infrastructure development.”
“Why do we have a grandiose hotel when wastewater could not be accommodated? They could probably set up their own wells, all hotels do. But after 2019, I’m wondering whether USCIS did not put all of these mechanisms to make it work. Because they are looking at the deadline.”
“We are in this quandary and would continue to do so unless we really open up the lines of communications.”