Navigating the immigration labyrinth: Covid-19 slows down the USCIS, leaving the status of foreign w

Saipan— In mid-July, the U.S. Citizenship Immigration Services announced possible furloughs and closure of some of its field offices due to the Covid-19 pandemic and a significant decrease in visa applications and processes. Both factors resulted in a revenue decline for this fee-funded agency, which reported a $571 million year-end deficit. USCIS has requested the U.S. Congress for a $1.2 billion emergency appropriation.

More than the financial malaise of the USCIS, the focus should be on the plight of millions of aliens-- legal or illegal--living and working in the United States, according to CNMI immigration lawyer Maya Kara. “Closer to home, the plight is that of thousands of foreign workers, who still comprise the bulk of the CNMI workforce, whose futures are uncertain,” said Kara, a veteran of immigration issues.

“The same goes for their employers. Between the Trump administration’s hostility to foreigners and the restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic, we have a perfect storm that is devastating to the fragile economy of the CNMI,” she added.

Duty Free Saipan, for example is one of the CNMI companies that depend largely on tourism. With tourism on freeze, DFS remains closed and it has no plans to renew its workers’ CW-1 contracts.

“There has been a decline in CW processing by employers because people don’t have the business activity to justify work, to justify the employment and they cannot afford to hire people. Given the nature of our workforce in the CNMI, that creates quite a bit of hardship,” immigration attorney Bruce Mailman said.