With U.S. Citizenship and Immigration amending its policy on the departure requirement for CNMI-Only Transitional Workers—more commonly referred to as the “touchback rule”—some of the 130 CW employees of Imperial Pacific International CNMI LLC would not be required to leave the CNMI.
At the Commonwealth Casino Commission’s board meeting last Thursday, IPI human resources director Redie Dela Cruz said that USCIS’ modification of its policy changed everything for CWs who initially fell under the touchback rule. Dela Cruz said they are planning to meet with their CW population as a whole to update them on this latest change in the rule and see how they can help them. Dela Cruz said she does not have the number in front of her as to how many people will be affected by the touchback rule.
In response to stakeholder feedback and disruptions by the COVID-19 pandemic, USCIS recently announced that it is modifying its policy on implementing the requirement that CW workers leave the CNMI for at least 30 days after two renewals of their CW-1 visa classification.
USCIS also reiterated that CW-1 long-term workers, as defined in the interim final rule, are exempted from the departure requirement.
In response to CCC chair Edward C. Deleon Guerrero’s question at the meeting whether or not IPI will save some money due to the changed policy, Dela Cruz said it would depend on “which side of the coin you look at.” She said it is about purchasing airline tickets for the CW workers and paying three-fourth of their remaining pay as guaranteed in their contract versus IPI needing to pay for the CW application fees for everyone and their housing-related expenses.
IPI senior vice president of public affairs Tao Xing also said that the changed USCIS policy is helpful to IPI in terms of short-term savings but it really depends on whether they are going to be allowed to reopen the casino because, given all these CW employees on the island, IPI will still have to pay three-fourths of their wages that is guaranteed in their contracts. He said if they extend work contracts of their CWs, they won’t have to pay the guaranteed three-fourths.
“So that’s what we’re looking at. If we open the casino early, then you know there will probably be some savings for it. If we continue to keep the casino closed, then it’s going to be a financial burden on our part,” Xing said.
He disclosed that they have around 130 CW employees altogether who are going to be repatriated, with majority of them from the Philippines and some from China.
As to the question if IPI has enough HR staff, Dela Cruz said right now they have 2.5 active HR members who are assisting approximately 900 employees. The .5 refers to a part-time staff.
“At best we see about 100 employees, trying to calm their nerves and just answering questions for them. We do our very best to assist these employees. Whether or not we have enough manpower I’m not sure what would be enough. So my answer would be yes and no,” the director said.
Dela Cruz also stated that IPI employees who are not from the island continue receiving housing and utilities.