Policy Changes on Nonimmigrants: One Home Run, One Own Goal

By David North on January 28, 2021

The devil, as always, is in the details; two quite separate and different new immigration policies, to use sports metaphors, include one grand-slam home run, and one own goal.

The Home Run. The unmitigated good news is that the incoming administration, according to a long article in the Washington Post, is about to de-credential the overly casual accrediting agency Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), which has allowed marginal colleges that major in foreign workers to flourish.

These schools, which offer only the lightest educational fare, allow the presence of marginal foreign students in the country. The students, mostly at the master's level, immediately secure government-subsidized jobs through the Optional Practical Training program; the students then can run through their three years of post-degree employment (if they major, as most of them do, in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and then take a succession of master's degrees to do the same thing over and over again.

Many of these marginal schools, as noted in the past, including the American College of Commerce and Technology in Falls Church, Va.; BIR Training Centers in Chicago; and Herguan University and Northwestern Polytechnic University (NPU) in the Bay Area, were accredited by ACICS at various times. The first three have since closed their doors, and NPU has moved on to another accrediting agency.

The unsettling details of how NPU managed to secure accreditation from ACICS were covered by a remarkable report by Buzzfeed a few years ago. The headline was: "Inside the School that Abolished the F and Raked in the Cash".

ACICS was about to be forced out of business for its lax standards by the U.S. Department of Education at the end of the Obama administration, but was then rescued by Trump's Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.

The Post story does not discuss ACICS and these visa mills, dwelling largely on a related issue: how large chains of for-profit schools (all credentialed by ACICS) provided low-quality services to many low-income Americans, often funded by federal programs, such as Pell grants.

The Own Goal. While the immigration implications of the proposed ACICS action appeared to be an accident, the outrageous (if narrow) maneuvers regarding foreign workers in the foreign-worker-saturated Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) appear to be carefully devised to bring extravagant federal funds to those Pacific islands, while continuing to condemn the local foreign work force to a vote-less future, thus playing into the hands of the local employer-and-governing class.

You might call it CNMI exceptionalism. There have been two quite separate developments:

  1. While all nonimmigrants have been barred from Covid-19 payments, all over America, there is an exception in the most recent $1.9 trillion relief package allowing full benefit payments to the CW-1 class of foreign workers in the CNMI, which will prop up the economy of these islands by the tens of millions and will encourage the CW-1s to stay in the islands.
  2. Meanwhile in the Biden administration's proposed America’s Citizenship Act of 2021, which would (among other things) make all of those out of status as of January 1, 2021, eligible (over time) to become citizens, there is a different kind of exception: Temporary workers in the CNMI would not be eligible for green cards unless they were present in the islands on November 28, 2009.

The November 2009 provision is in Section 245G(b)(5)(B) of the January 14, 2021, staff summary of the proposed legislation, which was not available online at press time.

So, on one hand, federal policy will give a huge windfall to the local economy, while the people who do the actual hard work in the islands, and comprise something like half the total workforce, will be denied eventual voter status. Thus the indigenous Chamorros will keep their total grip on power, to the detriment of the largely Chinese and Filipino workforce. If the whites in Mississippi tried to create a similar arrangement vis–a-vis the Blacks, the protests would be loud and long. But the CNMI, just north of Guam in the far Western Pacific, is a long way away, and no one will notice.

In fact, I suspect that this double play for the CNMI establishment is (prior to this report) known only to about four of us in Washington: the CNMI's Delegate to Congress, Kilili Sablan, a DINO (Democrat in name only); his able chief of staff; the CNMI governor's agent in town; and this writer (who used to work for Interior's Office of Insular Affairs). The chances are that the Democrats listened to only Sablan on these two issues, with the congressional staff working on the stimulus package and Biden's staff working on the legalization proposal never talking to one another, and certainly not on this point.

The CNMI has a foreign-worker policy much like that of the United Arab Emirates; i.e., lots of foreign workers with no political rights, now or ever. The Biden administration, distracted by a slew of important issues, shows no signs, yet, of changing things in these islands.

Note. Foreign workers in Guam are being treated differently than their opposite numbers 100 miles away in the Marianas. They, like all other nonimmigrants under the U.S. flag except those in CNMI, got no bonuses from the $1.9 trillion relief package; but, like their colleagues in CNMI, only those who arrived before November 28, 2009, are proposed to qualify under Biden's amnesty bill, thus they live in the worst of possible worlds: no covid checks and, for most, no permanent visas.