No update yet on USCIS regulations

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has yet to release regulations governing the implementation of the Northern Mariana Islands U.S. Workforce Act of 2018 or H.R. 5956.

The new regulations will be implemented in the next fiscal year, with fiscal year 2019 still following the previous guidelines set in the first extension of the CNMI-only Transitional Worker visa program.

Gov. Ralph DLG Torres said they are going to release information once USCIS officials release the new regulations.

Labor Secretary Vicky I. Benanvete said, in a previous interview, that they are expecting some changes in the guidelines set by the new law. She added that they are in constant contact with USCIS and it could take them almost a month before releasing the new regulations.

Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) said his office is also not aware of any new regulations promulgated by USCIS regarding the NMI Workforce Act. He said it has been almost three weeks since he last talked with USCIS.

“When I was in a meeting with USCIS officials in the afternoon of July 25, [they] did issue a notice announcing that 8,001 CW permits were available and that petitioners needed to use new petition form [while] also [adding] $50 to petitions submitted,” said Sablan.

“That was the last development that has transpired since the President signed [H.R.5956]. That does not mean they are not working on new regulations. I am just not aware that those regulations have been published in the Federal Register,” he added.

President Trump signed H.R. 5956 on July 25 (Wednesday, Washington D.C. time) that extends the CNMI’s foreign worker program, called the CW-1 program, to 2029 and increases the cap from 4,999 to 13,000 and extends the exemption on the national cap for H-1B and H-2B workers in the CNMI.

USCIS will collect a $50 fraud prevention and detection fee for each CW-1 petition submitted by an employer aside from the current fees. The fraud and prevention fee, however, does not apply to those CW-1 petitions that were filed as of July 24, 2018, and are pending for action.

The Workforce Act has also set a new cap from fiscal year 2019 to 2029; there would only be 1,000 slots for the first quarter of fiscal year 2030.

Employees, after the expiration of their second renewal period, must also leave the CNMI and stay outside for at least 30 days prior to the submission of their third renewal petition. Starting fiscal year 2020, the CW-1 permit would be valid for three years.

Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) re-introduced H.R. 5956 in the U.S. House of Representatives, the same bill penned by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). The bill needed to be re-introduced since the Senate version had revenue-generating sections, which needed to come from the House.

Local businesses reportedly heaved a sigh of relief after it appeared that USCIS had already accepted their petitions to extend their respective workers. WAC numbers had also been released, meaning USCIS had received their applications for extension.

Jon Perez | Reporter
Jon Perez began his writing career as a sports reporter in the Philippines where he has covered local and international events. He became a news writer when he joined media network ABS-CBN. He joined the weekly DAWN, University of the East’s student newspaper, while in college.

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