Monday, December 21, 2009

Fitial won't block 'green card'

Fitial won't block 'green card'

Tuesday, December 22, 2009
By Haidee V. Eugenio

Gov. Benigno R. Fitial and Lt. Gov. Eloy S. Inos said yesterday they won't oppose the federal government should it decide to grant “green cards” or lawful permanent resident status to nonresident workers in the CNMI.

Fitial, however, reiterated that CNMI Public Law 3-66, which he authored when he was a member of the 3rd Legislature, allows foreign workers to come here-as a “privilege”-only if and when resident workers are not available.

“There's nothing in that law that would even suggest that nonresident workers should be granted preferred immigration status,” the governor said.

U.S. Public Law 110-229 or the federalization law requires the Department of the Interior secretary, in consultation with the Homeland Security secretary and the CNMI governor, to recommend to the U.S. Congress-as the Interior secretary deems appropriate-a permanent immigration status for guest workers legally residing in the CNMI, by May 10, 2010.

Nonresident worker groups have started circulating a petition seeking lawful permanent resident status or “green card” to long-time foreign workers and others with relatives who are U.S. or Freely Associated States citizens in the CNMI, ahead of the May 2010 deadline.

Fitial said the granting of green cards is a “federal issue.”

“I don't have anything to do with it. That's their issue. That's a federal issue,” he told reporters in his conference room on Capital Hill yesterday afternoon.

Personally, Inos said, he won't support the granting of a green card if that status is limited only to the CNMI.

“I don't want it restricted here. If they want to issue green card, that's okay. Whoever is issued a green card can go to New Jersey, can go anywhere. But if the [green] card is limited to the CNMI, then that defeats the whole purpose of looking for our residents to obtain jobs,” he said.

The Saipan Chamber of Commerce has asked the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to consider granting a CNMI-only H-2 visa, describing it as the “true solution” to the mandated reduction in the number of foreign workers in the Northern Marianas.

Although it would be largely identical to the existing federal H-2 visa program, the Chamber-proposed visa would “not” allow egress from the CNMI to Guam or other areas of the United States, and would ensure that the CNMI has access to the workers it needs for the foreseeable future.

Fitial said his main concern is to provide jobs to local workers.

“The law is very specific. Once we identify qualified locals, then the nonresident worker occupying that position should be repatriated and that's in the law,” he said.

He said there are available training programs for resident workers, including the Northern Marianas Trade Institute.

“Some local employers are saying that local people are lazy, that they cannot produce. You know why? Because those local employers have no heart to train locals. Every employer should understand that nonresident workers here are only guest workers, they can only able to continue to work here until local workers are qualified. They should respect that,” he added.

But the governor said he “will continue to fight for the nonresident workers to remain” in the CNMI as long as they're needed, and this, he said, is the “essence of the lawsuit.”

He said he still can't tell when the CNMI government will be able to terminate its contract with the law firm Jenner & Block because one of the three counts of the lawsuit has yet to be adjudicated.

GAO visit

Fitial said some Government Accountability Office personnel are currently on island to gather data for the minimum wage impact study, but he said another GAO visit will happen in January.

Commerce Secretary Michael Ada confirmed yesterday that by early January, GAO is expected to present its preliminary study on the impact of federal minimum wage increases on the CNMI economy.

President Obama signed on Wednesday an omnibus Fiscal Year 2010 spending bill that also delays the next 50-cent minimum wage increase, from May 2010 to September 2010, to give the U.S. Congress more time to review the GAO study on the wage hike impact.

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