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By Cookie B. Micaller

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (January 27, 1999 - Saipan Tribune)---A Washington plan that will grant long-time non-resident workers in the Northern Marianas U.S. citizenship or permanent residency status is acceptable, according to Lt. Gov. Jesus R. Sablan.

The proposal, put forward by Edward B. Cohen, President Bill Clinton's special representative, in last week's consultations with the commonwealth will be contained in revised legislation on takeover (of labor and immigration laws) the White House is drafting.

Washington officials are worried about the extreme reliance of the island's economy on foreign labor, which makes up more than 90 percent of the work force in the private sector, and a number of problems spawned in hosting non-resident workers, now numbering between 28,000 and 30,000.

Despite the growing number of guest workers, Cohen noted, the prevailing conditions in the commonwealth deny non-residents the opportunities to participate in the American political and economic system, a situation which he said is "fundamentally inconsistent with the history and fabric of U.S. immigration and labor laws."

Sablan, who heads the CNMI team to the Section 902 consultations, told reporters he would support the proposal to give alien workers who have been in the Northern Marianas for years a chance to become residents or citizens.

He said parents whose children were born in the commonwealth should be eligible to apply for citizenship as well as those who have stayed on the islands for at least five consecutive years.

Estimates show that 16 percent of the children in the Northern Marianas are given birth by non-U.S. citizens, a figure that has alarmed federal officials.

Gov. Pedro P. Tenorio said in a separate interview he would review the proposal in order to determine how such a plan could help solve the lack of a local manpower pool.

"We should review that and try to come up with some suggestions or recommendations as to what would be the best solution," the governor said.

The absence of available skilled workers among the locals has forced the majority of the employers to depend on Asian workers, mostly from China and the Philippines, and the majority of the residents are attracted to government service because of fat pay.

But some local officials have expressed strong reservation to the idea in fear this will lead to an influx of foreigners and encourage guest workers to start having families in the Northern Marianas.

For additional reports from The Saipan Tribune, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Saipan Tribune.

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