Interior Official: CNMI Needs Over 10,000 Foreign Workers

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Removal of transitional worker permit and projected demand

By Cherrie Anne E. Villahermosa

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, June 22, 2015) – Assistant Interior Secretary for Insular Areas Esther Kia’aina told the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources last week that despite efforts by the CNMI government to increase its available U.S. workforce, it will still need over 10,000 foreign workers to meet projected demands.

Kia’aina said the elimination of the federal CNMI-Only Transitional Worker or CW permit in 2019 is an issue because it affects the potential economic growth of the commonwealth.

"The CNMI economy is just beginning to recover from the closure of all its garment factories in 2009, and the viability of the CNMI pension system is dependent on the construction of several proposed hotels and casinos," Kia’aina told the members of the committee when she testified on April 5, 2016 regarding S.2360 or the Omnibus Territories Act of 2015, and S.2610 which proposes to implement the 2010 Compact funding agreement between the U.S. and Palau.

According to Kia’aina, "current estimates predict that over 10,000 foreign workers are still needed to meet the projected demands of the CNMI’s tourism and construction industries."

She added, "The recovery of the CNMI economy and efforts to train the CNMI workforce continue to be an issue of utmost importance."

In 2008, "to ensure that effective border control procedures are implemented and observed, and that national security and homeland security issues are properly addressed," the Consolidated Natural Resources Act or U.S. P.L. 110-229 extended federal immigration law to the CNMI beginning in Nov. 2009, but provided for a transition period through Dec. 31, 2014.

On June 3, 2014, the U.S. secretary of Labor extended the transition period and the federal CW program for five years through Dec. 31, 2019 because of an insufficient number of U.S. workers to meet the CNMI’s workforce needs.

Another extension will require U.S. legislation.


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