Legislation reflects Gov. Torres’ proposals
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) introduced immigration legislation Thursday at the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C., which he says reflects the goals of CNMI Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ immigration policy proposals introduced during 902 consultations last month.
“That’s the intention of introducing this bill now. It’s to mirror the governor’s 902 consultation proposal and support and show there is an agreement from Commonwealth officials on this policy,” Sablan told Saipan Tribune.
Sablan clarifies he dropped the bill at Congress, a form of introducing the bill. “You drop the bill and the Parliamentarian takes it and assigns it to a committee and then it’s referred to Committee on Judiciary because it has to do with immigration.”
H.R. 5888 calls for amending section 6 of “A Joint Resolution to approve the Covenant To Establish a Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in Political Union with the United States of America, and for other purposes.”
The bill includes a request to extend the federally mandated immigration phase out deadline from 2019 to 2029. The legislation does increase the cap to 18,000 contract workers from the current numerical limit of 12,999. On May 20, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced they reached the CW-1 cap through petitions received up until May 5, 2016. H.R. 5888 also calls for foreign workers to be paid the prevailing wage, a little higher than the minimum wage in the CNMI.
The congressman was planning to introduce the bill back in June, but a last-minute change to Torres’ proposal before Section 902 talks meant the congressional bill had to undergo some fixes as well. Just days before the start to Section 902 consultations in Washington, D.C. in June, Torres added to his position paper a request for lawful permanent status for long-term third country nationals in the Northern Marianas. Sablan says he had to take the bill to the House Office of the Legislative Counsel for the revisions to reflect Torres’ request for improved status.
The congressman confirms in a phone interview, “It provides them an opportunity to apply for first Northern Marianas residency and then after a certain period, apply for green card.” If the bill is passed, Sablan says the path to permanent residency could be about five years. “It allows them to apply and could qualify if everything’s okay,” he further explains to Saipan Tribune, telling us the bill does not provide automatic residency or a green card right away.
However, Sablan says the realistic chances immigration legislation is enacted into the current Congress “is slim,” as he calls the legislation he introduced complex. He also points to the total of 13 weeks off for Congress between now and the November presidential election. But he does say immigration is currently a hotly contested issue in the United States.
With a planned path for improved status for foreign workers in H.R. 5888, there’s also a provision involving training funds and how they are used to usher in U.S. workers to the Commonwealth. Sablan’s Chief of Staff, Bob Schwalbach, says with the contract worker phase out deadline currently at 2019, the number of U.S. workers still has not changed much.
As for more immediate administrative fixes to the contract worker crisis in the CNMI, Sablan says he continues to work with USCIS personnel. The congressman says he is still waiting to hear back from them about a letter he sent in May after the agency announced they reached the CW-1 cap for fiscal year 2016. “I hope it’s sooner rather than later,” he tells Saipan Tribune.
“While they work this out, they won’t say what they’re going to do or if they’re going to do anything at all. But I would hope that, over the years I have worked with these people, they have been very careful, but they have also been very caring. And I’m going to wait for a response to my letter.”
Business leaders have issued their frustrations the majority of the 12,999 contract workers in the numerical limit would be construction workers next year if nothing is done. It was just last month Tan Holdings vice president Alex Sablan told media “This will collapse our economy. There is no if, buts about it.”
Business leaders with the Saipan Chamber of Commerce, Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands, and Northern Mariana Islands Chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management determined there are about 1,300 foreign workers whose status expires between May 5 and Oct. 1 this year. This data does not include family members, according to a joint resolution released by the groups in June. Media has learned families are already split up as the crisis continues.