US Attorney: CNMI's immigrant visa program remains prone to abuse
By Pacific Island Times News Staff
Saipan -- The CNMI-Only Transitional Worker (CW-1) program, which allows local employers to bring temporary guest workers into the commonwealth for certain jobs, continues to be abused by certain employers, U.S. Attorney Shawn Anderson said Friday.
“The public and the workers deserve a visa system that is free from fraud and waste," Anderson said after announcing the court's sentence for a manpower recruiter who has been visa fraud.
"We will prosecute this unlawful conduct to hold employers accountable and to promote fairness among those seeking employment in the CNMI," Anderson said.
The CW-1 visa classification allows CNMI employers to hire noncitizens who are otherwise ineligible to work in a U.S. jurisdiction under any other nonimmigrant worker categories. The program is scheduled to end on Dec. 31, 2029.
Anderson said the head of a CNMI-based labor recruitment agency has been sentenced to 21 months in prison for abusing the CW-1 visa program.
Alejandro Tumandao Nario, 65, a Philippine citizen and permanent resident of the CNMI, has also been ordered three years of supervised release and fined $7,000 plus $100 in special assessment fee.
Nario is the owner, president and manager of A&A Enterprises CNMI LLC, which opened its business on Saipan in January 2019.
Court records said "A&A Enterprises facilitated an unlawful scheme to acquire CW-1 nonimmigrant visas for foreign citizens to enter and remain in the CNMI."
Nario and his staff submitted petitions to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for at least 99 known foreign citizens. The petitions included contracts of employment, specifying terms, hours, and wages to be paid. A&A Enterprises did not intend to employ these foreign citizens.
The scheme was merely a mechanism to get them temporary immigration status. After paying $1,500 to $2,000 to A&A Enterprises for their CW-1 visas, once in the CNMI, these foreign workers would gain nondocumented jobs such as in construction, groundskeeping, and housekeeping, and then pay A&A Enterprises a fee of $194 every two weeks to keep their status.
The CW-1 visa program requires businesses petitioning for foreign workers to prove there is a demand for certain jobs and that those jobs for some reason cannot be filled by available United States citizens.
The petitioning business must also pay the administrative fees and travel expenses for the foreign workers. But in this case, foreign workers were required to pay for these expenses and acquire their own jobs, while A&A Enterprises profited.
At the same hearing, a second defendant, Rosalee Bangot Abejo, 47, also a Filipino citizen, was sentenced to six months of home confinement and 36 months of probation for conspiracy to defraud the United States.
The court also ordered 72 months of supervised release, 50 hours of community service, and a $100 special assessment fee.
During its investigation of A&A Enterprises, Homeland Security Investigations discovered Abejo was assisting the company by providing documents and other templates included with fraudulent visa petitions by A&A Enterprises.
Abejo also relied upon staff at A&A Enterprises to electronically modify documents, which Abejo used to fraudulently submit CW-1 and CW-2 petitions for two friends, and her own husband.
"These business owners defrauded many people who believed they were coming to the CNMI for legitimate jobs," said John F. Tobon, Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations Honolulu. "HSI will continue to investigate these crimes vigorously to protect the integrity of our immigration system and those who are victimized by these con-artists.”
The case was investigated by Homeland Security Investigations and prosecuted by Albert S. Flores Jr., Assistant United States Attorney for the District of the Northern Mariana Islands.