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SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, June 1) – Thousands of foreign workers may be eligible for permanent residency under the CNMI immigration bill drafted by the federal government.

Data from the Labor and Immigration Identification System show that there are 7,944 guest workers who have been employed in the Commonwealth for five to nine consecutive years.

This figure was based on valid labor permits issued as of May 16, 2007, as well as labor applications pending review. The data did not include those who have worked in the CNMI for 10 years or more.

"That's a lot of workers," press secretary Charles P. Reyes Jr. said of the figure. "Under the proposed federal law, they would be eligible for permanent residency, similar to the status enjoyed by people from the Federated States of Micronesia."

Reyes said the administration is concerned that many of the workers might opt to leave the CNMI once given the opportunity to freely travel and work in other U.S. jurisdictions.

"It will create a lot of uncertainty in our economy. Employers will no longer be able to confidently base their assumptions on the available employees. If those employees stay here, then fine. If not, then we'll have to get some more workers. It will certainly create complications and hardship that we feel are unnecessary," Reyes said.

According to LIIDS, there are 1,014 guest workers who have been on island for five years and 719 for six years. Nonresident workers who have stayed eight years total 4,871. Those who have had nine straight years of employment total 445.

Of the nearly 8,000 guest workers, 5,726 are from the Philippines. Some 1,266 are Chinese, 339 Thai, 150 Japanese, 146 Korean, 118 Bangladeshi, and 102 Nepalese. The 97 others are of different citizenships.

A draft federal immigration bill, now under review by the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, includes a one-time grandfather provision for long-term nonresident workers in the CNMI.

Under the bill, a five-year nonimmigrant visa will be provided to nonresidents who have been legally employed in the CNMI for at least five years. To be eligible, an applicant should also pass a criminal and medical background check.

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