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US citizenship for foreign workers in Northern Marianas

The US Department of Interior submitted to Congress a report recommending, among others, that those long-term alien workers be conferred US citizenship, or permanent residency status leading to citizenship, according to a report filed by Saipan Tribune.

“Consistent with the goals of comprehensive immigration reform, we recommend that the Congress consider permitting alien workers who have lawfully resided in the CNMI for a minimum period of five years to apply for long-term status under the immigration and nationality laws of the United States,” Assistant Interior Secretary for Insular Affairs Tony Babauta said, in the report.

Should US Congress act on the Interior department’s initiative, some 15,816 aliens residing in the CNMI for five years or more would be covered, along with those who have been in the territory for three to five years, the report said.

There were 20,859 foreigners in the CNMI as of January 2010, with 16,304 classified as workers.

‘Welcome news’ for Pinoys

Data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration showed there were over 14,000 Filipinos in the CNMI as of December 2008, with about 13,000 classified as temporary residents and 500 irregulars. The rest are considered permanent residents.

“This is welcome news for us, and we hope that the CNMI government will respect the decision of the Interior,” Ramon Awit, an OFW in the CNMI’s island capital Saipan for 16 years, told GMANews.TV in an interview.

Unlike the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants now in US mainland, foreign workers in the CNMI came to work and live under legal terms in the islands, Awit, an adviser for the CNMI United Filipino Organization, said.

Most foreign workers in the CNMI are part of the US system, having been issued US Social Security numbers, said Rabby Syed, president of the United Workers Movement-NMI, whose membership consists largely of OFWs.

In 2008, the CNMI Department of Labor issued 23,110 permits to foreign workers, with 13,768 going to Filipinos.

“Ngayong may rekomendasyon na ang Interior, mababawasan na ang pagkalito ng mga tao. Sana huwag nang kontrahin ng CNMI (Now that Interior’s recommendation has come up with a recommendation, people will be less confused. Hopefully the CNMI will no longer oppose it),” said Lito Espina, a Saipan-based OFW for 14 years.

Deputy Labor Secretary Cinta Kaipat and House Vice Speaker Felicidad Ogumoro, however, have expressed disappointment with the recommendation at the onset, as it would make it more difficult for the indigenous residents to compete with foreign workers for private sector jobs, the report stated.—VS, GMANews.TV

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