Cap For Fiscal 2017 CNMI Guest Worker Visas Already Reached, Businesses Adversely Impacted By Worker Shortages

Obama administration encouraging businesses to hire US-eligible workers in ongoing negotiations with Torres administration

By Cherrie Anne E. Villahermosa

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, October 24, 2016) – Representative Angel Demapan, a member of the CNMI panel in the 902 talks with the U.S. government, said the recent announcement of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services regarding the CW cap will again result in a dilemma for CNMI businesses and is extremely disappointing.

The Torres administration said the news will have a dramatic effect on the local economy.

USCIS over the weekend announced that the cap for fiscal year 2017, which is 12,998, has already been reached, adding that USCIS will reject CW-1 petitions “that were received on or after Oct. 15, 2016 and that request an employment start date before Oct. 1, 2017.”

USCIS said if “an extension petition is rejected then the beneficiaries listed on that petition are not permitted to work beyond the validity period of the previously approved petition. Therefore, affected beneficiaries, including any CW-2 derivative family members of a CW-1 nonimmigrant, must depart the [CNMI] within 10 days after the CW-1 validity period has expired, unless they have some other authorization to remain under U.S. immigration law.”

Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands president Gloria Cavanagh said: “Our only recourse now is to work with the U.S. Congress after the elections are done. We, as businesses, need to join together to help our U.S. delegate and our governor present our case.   It is very sad that we will again face losing some of our long-term employees, our friends and for many of us people we consider to be part of the backbone of our society and economy.”

Demapan said CNMI leaders “have been prodding the Obama administration and the U.S. Congress about the urgent need to recalculate the cap based on ongoing economic developments. As long as our concerns continue to fall on deaf ears in Washington, we will all feel the pain, employers and employees alike.”

Businesses in the commonwealth have already been adversely affected by the shortage of workers resulting from delays in CW processing earlier this year, he added.

He said under the federalization law, or U.S. Public Law 110-229, the U.S. is supposed to minimize to the greatest extent practicable potential adverse economic and fiscal effects of the phasing-out of the commonwealth’s nonresident contract worker program and to maximize the commonwealth’s potential for future economic and business growth.

“However, what we are seeing now are policy decisions that contradict the intent of Congress,” Demapan said.

In a statement, the administration said:

“The announcement of the cap being reached three weeks into this fiscal year will have dramatic effects on the CNMI economy and underscores the need to increase our collective efforts to alter the law to allow our economy to continue its growth, strengthen government services, and provide jobs to our residents.

“Until we get some level of control in this process, the cap will be consistently reached, limiting labor for the existing economy and affecting our long-term guest workers. The Torres administration will continue to work with our U.S. congressman and USCIS to find ways to curb the economic and humanitarian consequences that will arise in the coming months. While our options may be limited, it is important for us to look into all available options for our people and the economy. We will continue to provide updates as we monitor the effects of this announcement closely.”

Demapan reiterated the need to allow the CNMI to participate in the CW process, saying that the CNMI Department of Labor knows the businesses in the commonwealth and not USCIS.

But he also encourages businesses “to search for qualified U.S.-eligible workers, and if it continues to be difficult for businesses to find such U.S.-eligible workers, we can compile that data to show that the labor pool is simply not within reach. With our economy showing promising signs of improvement, we must continue working toward a comprehensive plan to effectively manage the pace of economic development in the commonwealth.”

Marianas Variety
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