U.S. House Passes Bill To Increase Number Of CNMI-Only Worker Permits

Congressman Sablan pushes through increase; bill moves to Senate for consideration

By Cherrie Anne E. Villahermosa

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Feb. 2, 2017) – The U.S. House of Representatives on Monday in Washington, D.C. passed the measure increasing the numerical cap of the CNMI-Only Transitional Workers Visa program from 12,998 to 15,000.

Introduced by U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, H.R. 339 or the Northern Mariana Islands Economic Expansion Act now goes to the U.S. Senate.

It was U.S. Congressman Tom McClintock, R-Calif., who moved to suspend the rules and pass the bill.

“The House,” he said, “passed an identical bill this past December just before the conclusion of the 114th Congress. However, that bill was unable to pass the Senate and make it to the president’s desk for signature before the end of that Congress, and so I am here today to once again urge the bill’s passage through the House and on to the Senate.”

According to McClintock, “The Northern Mariana Islands are benefiting by new investments and growth of consumer spending, particularly in tourism. Their economic growth rate is almost twice that of the rest of our country.”

He said to “meet this growth, the commonwealth has to maintain a workforce to match it. Currently, the Northern Marianas is phasing out the use of foreign workers by slowly reducing the total number of CW-1 permits issued by the Department of Homeland Security. Economic growth is dynamic, but bureaucracy is not. If the CW-1 permits are phased out too quickly, the islands may suffer a growth-stopping shortage of labor.”

McClintock said Kilili’s bill “would provide flexibility to the commonwealth in order to protect its newfound economic prosperity in three critical ways:

“First, it would fund ongoing vocational education curricula and program development to assure a skilled domestic workforce funded from an increase in CW-1 fees from $150 to $200.

“Second, it would limit the CW-1 permits for the construction occupation to those issued prior to Oct. 1 of 2015.

“And third, it would temporarily increase the number of CW-1 permits during this transition period.

“Mr. Speaker, these changes will continue to accommodate the economic growth in the Northern Marianas, while assuring a trained domestic workforce for the future.

“I would urge adoption of the bill.”

Kilili said he was thanful to “Chairman Rob Bishop for allowing my bill to come to the floor again,” referring to the Utah Republican who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee.

“We passed the same bill in the House on Dec. 6,” Kilili said, “but the Senate adjourned three days later without acting on it, and the problem has not gone away.”

Kilili said the “economy of the Northern Mariana Islands grew 3.5 percent last year, the fourth straight year of growth for my district. This strong economic expansion is good news for the people I represent. We desperately want this growth to continue because our economy is still smaller than it was in 2000. The Northern Mariana Islands Economic Expansion Act addresses that problem and is broadly supported back home.”

He then included in the record letters of support from Gov. Ralph Torres, the Commonwealth Strategic Economic Development Council, the Commonwealth Healthcare Corporation, the Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands and the Saipan Chamber of Commerce.

At the same time, Kilili thanked U.S. Congressman Don Young, R-Alaska, “who held a hearing on this issue last September and agreed that action was needed.”

Kilili said he also appreciates “the support of Ranking Member Raul Grijalva and our new Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs Subcommittee Ranking Member, Norma Torres.   Mr. Speaker, I am indebted to the minority whip, Mr. [Steny] Hoyer, and to the majority leader, Mr. [Kevin] McCarthy, and to my friend Mr. McClintock of California who agreed to bring H.R. 339 to the floor today.”

McClintock then urged the U.S. House “to finish the work that it began in December by passing this bill.”

The bill was passed.

The CNMI is also hoping that the U.S. Congress will pass legislation extending the federal CW program, which ends in 2019, for 10 more years, and increasing the CW cap to 18,000.

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