A 33-percent decrease in the limit on the number of foreign workers allowed in the CNMI-from 22,416 in fiscal year 2012 to 15,000 in FY 2013-is a reflection not only of severe job losses in the CNMI but also justifies repeated calls for an extension of the transitional Commonwealth-only worker program beyond 2014, stakeholders said.
Richard Pierce, executive director of the Saipan Chamber of Commerce, said “although it has been a long time coming, it’s good to see a number from DHS that’s based upon demand.”
“More importantly, the Chamber’s membership awaits word on the extension of the transition period. That 15,000 ceiling, with the initial 22,371 nonresidents, and the 11,735 CW-1 applications received, not only indicates the overall job loss in the CNMI. It also means there’s a continuing need for skilled labor in the CNMI that cannot be met within the local population. This is a strong argument for extending the transition period,” Pierce told Saipan Tribune.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced on Thursday that the limit for CW-1 workers is 15,000 for FY 2013.
The Chamber of Commerce is the largest business organization in the CNMI with over 150 members.
Pierce said “DHS would be negligent in complying with the caution expressed within the Consolidated Natural Resources Act, where care is to be exercised in protecting the CNMI economy dependent upon those foreign national employees, if it were not to extend the transition period.”
If the transition period is not extended by the U.S. Secretary of Labor, the number of CW-1 workers should be zeroed out after Dec. 31, 2014.
Most CW-1 workers in the CNMI are from Asian countries such as the Philippines, China, Korea, Thailand, Bangladesh, and Japan.
The law that placed CNMI immigration under federal control, the Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008, requires an annual reduction in the number of CW-1s, the nonimmigrant category for these transitional workers.
Delegate Gregorio Kilili Sablan (Ind-MP) said DHS' 15,000 cap is “a step in the right direction.”
He said his primary concern is that qualified U.S. workers get any jobs that are available in the CNMI.
“Employers are not supposed to get a CW worker unless there is no qualified U.S. worker for the job. But we know that U.S. workers are still being passed over. When DHS set the limit for CW workers at 22,418 for 2012, it was clear that was many more workers than we needed; and it meant there was less reason for employers to hire U.S. workers. So I thought that number was wrong. For 2013 the number is 15,000. That is a one-third cut and a step in the right direction,” Sablan said.
The CNRA or U.S. Public Law 110-229 requires zeroing out the number of CW workers by the end of 2014.
The law also says not to hurt the economy. So there is a balancing act to meet both those goals, Sablan said.
“Our economy will probably need CW workers beyond 2014, which is why I expect the Secretary of Labor to extend the transition period. And we all hope that our economy will grow, which is why we cannot reduce the number of CW permits that are available too quickly. But by lowering the cap significantly, as DHS has now done, we are all reminded that we have to put U.S. workers into more jobs and that we have to keep training more U.S. workers to fill the jobs of the future,” Sablan added.
DHS published a notice in the Federal Register announcing this decision.
The CW-1 transitional worker program allows foreign nationals who are ineligible for any existing employment-based nonimmigrant category under the Immigration and Nationality Act work in the CNMI during the transition period.
For FY 2012, the numerical limitation for CW-1s was set at 22,416, during which employers in the CNMI filed Form I-129CW petitions for more than 12,000 transitional workers.
But many petitioned foreign workers have yet to be granted their CW permit.
“DHS has set the CW-1 limit for FY 2013 at 15,000 to meet the CNMI's existing labor market needs and provide opportunity for potential growth, while reducing the numerical limitation as required by the CNRA. Petitions requesting a work start date in FY 2013 (between Oct. 1, 2012, and Sept. 30, 2013) will be counted towards the 15,000 limit,” DHS said in a statement.