Up To 4,000 CNMI Workers Could Be Displaced Next Year Due To Visa Cap

Numerical limit on CNMI-Only Transitional Worker program being cut

By Jon Perez 

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Sept. 9, 2016) – A large number of workers could again be displaced in the next fiscal year based on estimates given by the Saipan Chamber of Commerce. The Department of Homeland Security reduced by one the numerical limit of the CNMI-Only Transitional Worker nonimmigrant visa program.

From 12,999, DHS cut the cap to 12,998 for fiscal year 2017, which starts on Oct. 1.

Chamber secretary Alex Sablan, speaking to their members in last Tuesday’s meeting at the Kanoa Resort’s Seaside Hall, said the displaced CW-1 workers would gravely impact the CNMI’s economy that has been recovering after years of slump.

“We are estimating somewhere between 3,400 and 4,000 workers are going to be displaced on our operations for our economy prior to FY 2017. We have roughly 9,145 CW workers in the CNMI, prior to the cap being exhausted as of May this year,” said Sablan.

“Roughly 7,000 construction workers are projected to be in the next fiscal year under the CW cap. We are estimating somewhere between 3,400 and 4,000 workers again are going to be displaced.”

That’s why Sablan, along with other members of the local business community, will be presenting a collective position to the U.S. House of Representatives in an oversight hearing by the Committee on Natural Resources, which referred Delegate Gregorio “Kilili” C. Sablan’s (Ind-Saipan) House Resolution 5888 to the Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs.

Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah 1st District) is the head of the House Committee on Natural Resources, while Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska at-large) leads the Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs, which also handles the matters regarding U.S. insular areas.

The oversight hearing will be held on Sept. 13 in Washington, D.C. at 11am (local time) at the Longworth House Office Building in the U.S. House of Representatives. The hearing aims to review the economic impact of the CW program that ends in 2019.

The hearing will be streamed live on the committee website [http://naturalresources.house.gov] at 1am on Wednesday, Sept. 14, in the CNMI.

Extending the program up to 2029 and increasing the cap to 18,000 contract workers from the current 12,999 limit are among the provisions included on H.R. 5888. Chamber secretary Sablan is the Strategic Economic Development Council’s CW and Labor Task Force chair.

Sablan said their presentation would discuss the current situation of the CNMI economy and the impact the CW-1 program to the local workforce. “[What] we’re going to present to them [is] based on the overall number that we project for losses in the CW-1 category for operations this year [and] this next fiscal year.”

He added that’s why the Chamber wants to hear what would be its impact to local businesses so they could share it to Congress with construction workers expected to dominate the application for CW visas next fiscal year.

“So that we can share this with Congress, let them know that we truly need the increase in CW numbers in order to project forward our growing economy.”

Members of the Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands, Society for Human Resources Management-NMI Chapter, and the Saipan Small Business Development Center will join the Chamber in presenting a unified front to the oversight hearing.

Alex Sablan said they have been meeting regularly the past three months where they discussed the issues and the plan of hiring a consultant in Washington, D.C. They would meet with the consultant in the nation’s capital. “The idea is to develop a pact or some form of organization.”

“Where the businesses channel funds to this group and pay to help us lobby for changes on legislation in Congress. We perceived that things are going to move forward. We will also be asking for your [Chamber members] support,” said Sablan.

CNMI’s economic, labor issues

Delegate Sablan, in a statement, said the hearing would be the CNMI’s opportunity to highlight the current economic climate and present the challenges it would face in the future. Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and the local business community support Sablan’s HR 5888.

“Thanks to [Representatives] Bishop and Young for agreeing to my request to convene this oversight hearing,” said Delegate Sablan, a vice ranking member of the Natural Resources Committee.

“With the current increase in investment and the difficulties surrounding the Commonwealth-only Transitional Worker program I think the time is right,” added Sablan, who arranged the meeting between Bishop’s committee staff and the CNMI business leaders.

“I appreciate the time that Alex Sablan, [HANMI’s] Gloria Cavanagh, [SCC president] Velma Palacios, and [SHRM representative] Frank Gibson all took to meet with the staff, when they were on island, and help persuade them of the need for a hearing. The business leaders made a convincing case,” Sablan said.

Under the CW-1 program, employers must either replace their workers with U.S. citizens or permanent residents, citizens from neighboring Freely Associated States in the Pacific or foreigners that have other work visa status.

U.S. Public Law 110-229 or the Consolidated Natural Resources Act, extended U.S. immigration law to the Northern Marianas, beginning in 2009 and the law created the special CW immigration classification to allow foreign workers to the CNMI. The program ends on Dec. 31, 2019.

Saipan Tribune
Copyright © 2016. Saipan Tribune. All Rights Reserved

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