The U.S. Attorney for the Districts of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands recently announced multiple sentences arising out of a scheme to willfully abuse the CW-1 Visa Program for personal profit. The announcement underscores the serious repercussions of defrauding the immigration process and the U.S. government.
Abuse of the CW-1 Program
According to the announcement, a business owner who resided in the Northern Mariana Islands facilitated an unlawful scheme to acquire CW-1 nonimmigrant visas for workers with no intention of employing them. The business owner petitioned U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) for at least 99 noncitizens to enter the United States under fraudulent employment contracts. While the contracts specified terms, hours, and wages, an investigation into the company ultimately revealed that the company never intended to employ these individuals.
Instead, the company would charge the noncitizens a fee of $1,500.00 to $2,000.00 for the visa, and then require them to pay the company $194.00 every two weeks to maintain their status under the visa program. Rather than employing them, the company would direct the workers to take undocumented jobs in various industries including construction, groundskeeping, and housekeeping. It is unclear the extent to which the business profited from these abuses.
The business owner was found guilty of violating 18 U.S.C. § 1546, which controls fraud and misuse of visas, permits, and other documents (“visa fraud”). The U.S. District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands sentenced the man to 21 months of imprisonment, three years of supervised release, a $7,000.00 fine, and a $100.00 special assessment fee.
A second defendant was sentenced for involvement in the same scheme. For his participation, he was found guilty of Conspiracy to Defraud the United States, 18 U.S.C. § 371, for which he was sentenced to six months of home confinement, 36 months of probation, 72 months of supervised release, 50 hours of community service, and a $100.00 special assessment fee.
According to John F. Tobon, Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”) Honolulu, “these business owners defrauded many people who believed they were coming to the CNMI for legitimate jobs. 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.”
CW-1 Visa Program
The CW-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa that permits travel to the United States for temporary workers to be employed in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (“CNMI”). To utilize this visa program, the employer must meet a series of requirements, including the following:
- Obtain an approved temporary labor certification (TLC) from the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) and consider all available U.S. workers for the position;
- Be engaged in a legitimate business, including participation in the E-Verify program;
- Offer terms and conditions of employment consistent with the nature of the employer’s business in the CNMI;
- Comply with all federal and CNMI requirements relating to employment, including nondiscrimination, occupational safety, and minimum wage requirements;
- Pay reasonable transportation costs if the alien is involuntarily dismissed from employment for any reason before the end of the period of authorized admission; and
- Comply with the semiannual reporting requirement.
A worker may stay in the United States under the CW-1 program for one year and a maximum of 12,999 workers are permitted under this program. Noncitizens under the program are generally not permitted in any other parts of the United States, with limited exceptions.
Enforcement of Immigration-Related Violations
The sentencing announcement in this case highlights the series criminal repercussions for abusing and defrauding immigration programs. Additionally, it underscores the continued efforts of the U.S. government to protect from abuse and manipulation the vulnerable foreign workers seeking to enter this country.