Humanitarian parolees who adjusted their status in advance of the June 29, 2019, deadline are now in a quandary on whether they qualify for residency status under Public Law 116-24 or the Northern Mariana Islands Long-Term Legal Residents Relief Act.
Chris Bernardo, a waitstaff at Fiesta Resort & Spa Saipan, said he has no idea whether he can still apply for CNMI-only permanent residency under the new law that was signed into law last week.
The 41-year-old Filipino said he is part of the 1,039 individuals who now qualify for the new resident status. However, Bernardo isn’t sure if he forfeited the privilege to qualify for improved status since, like others worried about being forced to leave because of the June 29 deadline, he asked his company to petition him for a CNMI-Only Nonresident Worker visa and he was approved last March.
“I’m really worried because I’ve adjusted to being a CW worker and that may affect my becoming a permanent resident in the future,” he told Saipan Tribune in Tagalog.
Bernardo, who has lived on Saipan the past 22 years and has three U.S. citizen children, said he actually had mixed emotions after President Donald J. Trump signed H.R. 559 into law last week, which gave humanitarian parolees CNMI-only status.
“Nobody really knew what would happen. I also feared that I might lose status, [which is why I opted to apply for a CW visa],” he added.
A 34-year-old sales representative is in the same boat as Bernardo.
Arthuro, not his real name, said his company petitioned him for a CW visa last June and he has no idea whether his application can be rescinded or not. He has worked on Saipan the past 13 years and has six U.S. citizen children.
The law’s author, Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP), said even he couldn’t give Bernardo and humanitarian parolees like him a clear and definitive answer.
“[U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services] will determine each petition on a case-by-case basis. To read into the law and provide personal views on who qualifies, or who doesn’t, at this time, is speculative at best,” he said in an email to Saipan Tribune.
Sablan said USCIS will first issue the rules for the review and determination of eligibility. After doing so, the agency then will still review eligibility on a case-by-case basis, to reach the decision or decisions it needs to make.
Foreign worker advocate Itos Feliciano seconded Sablan’s call for patience and wait for USCIS to issue the regulations for P.L. 116-24.
“I really can’t say as of now because we are still waiting for the final regulations. I would suggest following USCIS’ advice on their website and apply for re-parole and wait for their reply,” he said in response to Saipan Tribune via a social media message.
However, Feliciano is optimistic that USCIS would ultimately deem humanitarian parolees who adjusted their status eligible for P.L. 116-24.
“I’m sure if they are eligible, their request for a re-parole will be granted and, if not, they’ll just have to wait for H.R. 560 to be [become] law,” he added.
H.R. 560 has similar language as H.R. 559 but gives eligible longtime workers under the CW visa residency status. Sablan earlier said that the former doesn’t have the backing of the Trump administration. He said even if it passes the U.S. House of Representatives, the chances of it passing the Senate are dim.
Trump signed H.R. 559 last week, giving 1,039 individuals living in the CNMI under humanitarian parole CNMI-only permanent resident status.
These include over 800 spouses and parents of U.S. citizens, 50 in-home caregivers, five persons born in the Marianas before the Covenant citizenship provisions went into effect, and persons who had been given permanent resident status under Commonwealth law in the early 1980s. All would have been forced to leave the CNMI last June 29, if the bill had not been signed into law.
Saipan Tribune emailed USCIS public affairs officer Claire K. Nicholson seeking clarification on Bernardo and company’s concerns. She has yet to respond as of press time.