Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan, who authored H.R. 339 that recently passed the U.S. Senate, fended off criticisms to the current version of his bill, pointing out that it was envisioned as a “short-term solution” to a problem that must first be addressed before looking at a longer-term solution to the CNMI’s labor problems.
In an email to Saipan Tribune, Sablan pointed out that the bill does not entirely remove construction workers from the CW-1 permitting. According to his email, employers may utilize H-2B visas – which are uncapped for both the CNMI and Guam as compared to the rest of the United States—to secure the needed labor in construction.
“… HR 339 does not entirely remove construction workers from CW permitting. Construction workers permitted under the CW program prior to Oct. 1, 2015, will continue to be eligible for CW permits,” he said, adding that an estimated 1,000 to 1,500 construction workers are “covered by this timeline.”
Sablan added that the 350 extra permits for 2017 “can take care of everyone who is expiring,” he said, adding that there are 306 CW permits that are expiring in August and September.
The email did not specify the occupations of the expiring CW permits.
“H.R. 339 is a short-term solution to fix the problem created when thousands of temporary Chinese construction workers used up one-third of all the available CW permits, hurting many local businesses and even the hospital,” said Sablan, adding that although he was not able to address the needs of everyone, barring the construction workers from using CW permits “make it less likely that this problem will occur again.”
“Once we have taken care of the short-term problem created by the surge of Chinese construction workers, we can turn to legislation with a longer-term solution to the need for labor to keep our economy growing,” he said.
The U.S. Senate passed H.R. 339 last week. It initially proposed to secure an additional 2,002 CW-1 slots. The bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives untouched but U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources chair Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) inserted an amendment lowering the number of slots that would be opened to just 350. The amendment passed the U.S. Senate; the bill is now pending in the U.S. House, which is in recess for the whole month of August and is scheduled to resume sessions on Sept. 5, 2017.