This bill — the Northern Mariana Islands Long-Term Legal Residents Relief Act — would direct the Secretary of Homeland Security to create a process for allowing alien residents to apply for, and be admitted to, CNMI Resident status (“CNMI” is the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands).
- EnactedJune 25th, 2019The President signed this bill into law
- The senate Passed on a voice vote
- The house Passed on a voice vote
Committee on Natural ResourcesImmigration and CitizenshipIntroducedJanuary 15th, 2019
- house Committees
What is House Bill H.R. 559?
Cost of House Bill H.R. 559
In-Depth: Rep. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (D-MP-At Large) introduced this bill to create a path to CNMI permanent resident status for long-term legal alien residents of the CNMI.
The Saipan Chamber of Commerce supports this bill, as well as Rep. Sablan’s related bill, the Northern Mariana Islands Residents Relief Act (H.R. 560). In a letter to Rep. Sablan, the Saipan Chamber of Commerce’s President, Velma Palacios, wrote:
“The Saipan Chamber of Commerce supports your introduction of H.R. 559 and H.R. 560 to the United States Congress. Long-term legal residents have played an integral role in growing and shaping our Commonwealth. A situation unique due to our historical relationship with the United States, our workers, families, and community needs a permanent solution to an issue that has created an unstable workforce and overall economy. The introduction of your bill is a positive step in resolving this need for stability. As we continue to rebuild our economy after multiple catastrophic typhoons and fluctuations in industries, the Commonwealth has a dire need for U.S. qualified workers on which our workforce can permanently depend. Their experience and proven work records are an asset to our companies, our industries, and our islands. Most importantly, the solutions outlined in this bill would provide an avenue for existing foreign workers to remain in the Commonwealth while not compromising our border security.”
In 2017 report on 902 consultations between the U.S. and CNMI, a team of Special Representatives of the U.S. and the CNMI recommended that long-term guest workers in the CNMI be given a path to become lawful permanent residents:
“Another CNMI proposal requiring Congressional action is to give long-time guest workers in the CNMI the ability to call the CNMI their home permanently by providing them a path to lawful permanent residence. The long-term guest workers, through their continued presence and contributions to the CNMI, are intertwined with the economic development and growth of the Commonwealth. Allowing these individuals a path to lawful permanent residence would recognize their important contributions to a place many of them consider home, in some cases for more than 20 years.”
In response to this recommendation, then-Interior Secretary Kenneth Salazar issued a report recommending that Congress consider exploring five options for alien workers who have lawfully resident in the CNMI for a minimum of five years. Salazar’s five options were for Congress to confer: 1) citizenship, 2) permanent resident status leading to U.S. citizenship with the five-year minimum resident spent anywhere in the U.S. or its territories, 3) permanent resident status leading to U.S. citizenship status with the five-year minimum residence spent in the CNMI, 4) nonimmigrant status like that negotiated for citizens of the freely associated states (the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau) allowing the worker to live and work in the U.S. and its territories, and 5) nonimmigrant status like that negotiated for citizens of the freely associated states allowing the worker to live and work in the CNMI only. However, none of Salazar’s recommendations have been taken up by Congress.
This bill has one cosponsor, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT).
Of Note: U.S. immigration law came into effect in the CNMI for the first time following the enactment of the Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008 (CNRA), which expanded the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) to the CNMI and terminated the CNMI’s own immigration regime. This change was intended to prevent the recurrence of highly-publicized labor and human rights abuses against CNMI guest workers in the preceding two decades; however, this federalization has created significant uncertainty for guest workers, most of whom don’t quality for U.S. visas despite their long-term legal residency in the CNMI, and who are now split from their U.S. citizen children. In a January 2011 article in the Pacific Rim Law & Policy Journal, then-University of Washington J.D. candidate Robert J. Misulich argued that Congressional legislation granting permanent resident status to long-term CNMI guest workers is the only possible remedy to this dilemma:
“[A]lthough federalization was well intentioned, it subjects thousands of legal CNMI guest workers to deportation after November 28, 2011 through no fault of their own. The existing legislation also imposes a number of handicaps on guest workers, including an inability to leave and re-enter the CNMI. To remedy these serious omissions, Congress should pass new legislation to grant permanent resident status to long-term CNMI guest workers.”
In the absence of a path to permanent resident status for guest workers in the CNMI, the Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS), through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), established the CNMI-Only Transitional Worker program in 2011. Under this program, employers petition for nonimmigrant CW-1 permits allowing foreign workers who meet certain requirements to work temporarily in the CNMI. The CNRA limits the number of permits DHS may issue annually and reduces that number each year until the end of the transition period, currently set to expire in FY 2029.
Rep. Sablan introduced this bill in response to the Dept. of Homeland Security’s termination of the Philippines from H-2B visa eligibility and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ discontinuation of the CNMI parole program. Rep. Sablan’s other CNMI immigration bill, the Northern Mariana Islands Residents Relief Act (H.R. 560) would provide a path to CNMI resident status to eligible individuals who meet the following four criteria: 1) have been lawfully present in the CNMI under U.S. immigration laws on the date of enactment or on December 31, 2018; 2) are admissible as an immigrant to the United States under the INA, although no immigrant visa is required; 3) have resided continuously and lawfully in the CNMI from November 28, 2009, through the date of enactment; and 4) are not a citizen of the Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of the Marshall Islands, or Republic of Palau. Individuals meeting the previous criteria, and who fall into one of seven categories (below) would be eligible to apply for CNMI resident status. Those categories would be:
- Born in the CNMI between January 1, 1974 and January 8, 1978;
- Was a permanent resident of the CNMI (as defined by CNMI law in effect on May 8, 2008) on November 27, 2009;
- Is the spouse or child (as defined in the INA) of an individual described in 1) and 2) above;
- Was a spouse, child, or parent of a U.S. citizen on November 27, 2011, and continues to have such family relations with the citizen;
- Had a grant of parole under the former DHS parole program for certain in-home caregivers on December 31, 2018;
- Was admitted to the CNMI as a CW-1 guest worker during FY 2015 and during every subsequent fiscal year beginning before July 24, 2018; or
- Resided in the CNMI as an investor under CNMI immigration and is presently a resident under E-2 CNMI investor status.
- Saipan Chamber of Commerce Letter (In Support)
- Saipan Tribune
- Government Accountability Office (GAO) Report (Context)
- Report to the President on 902 Consultations (Context)
- Countable (Related Bill)
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / ronniechua)