SAIPAN — Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and a nationwide shortage of nurses and other health care workers, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has denied the temporary labor certifications for the CW-1 renewal petitions of 17 licensed practical nurses and one radiologic technologist for the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp., said CHCC Chief Executive Officer Esther Muna.

Thirteen of the LPNs work on Saipan while four are assigned to the the Tinian Health Center. The radiologic technologist is employed at the Rota Health Center.

Their CW-1 permits expired on Tuesday and they are required to leave the CNMI in 10 days.

Muna said at least seven will be "sponsored" by their spouses and can remain in the CNMI, but the other 10 will have to leave.

The health care workers' applications for temporary labor certifications were filed with the U.S. Department of Labor two months ago. But the applications were denied because of a supposed failure on the part of CHCC to "post in two conspicuous areas."

CHCC filed an appeal on Aug. 21 and 24.

CHCC spokesperson Lee Tenorio said Gov. Ralph Torres also wrote a letter U.S. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia.

In an interview, Muna said she hopes that USCIS would at least allow all the 18 health care workers to remain in the CNMI.

"We are in a situation where we know that if they leave, it is going to be a while before they come back," she added.

Muna said they will also ask the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services if a waiver is possible to allow the health care workers to stay in the CNMI.

"Our human resources department is working diligently to make sure that we take care of these individuals and that includes their exit – the only alternative at this time," Tenorio said.

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