Senate President Paul Manglona (Ind-Rota) said yesterday that the Senate is poised to adopt a resolution as early as Wednesday supporting the extension of the federalization transition period beyond Dec. 31, 2014, so that the CNMI will have continued access to foreign workers.
Under the federalization law, the foreign worker population in the CNMI should be zeroed out after 2014. But the law allows for a five-year extension, to be decided by the U.S. Labor secretary in consultation with the Homeland Security secretary and the CNMI governor.
Manglona said the resolution, which is now being drafted, will also include the Senate's longstanding recommendation to Congress to grant alien workers who have been in the CNMI for at least 10 years as of May 2008 an immigration status similar to those granted to Freely Associated States citizens.
He said the resolution will also include support for Delegate Gregorio Kilili Sablan's (Ind-MP) HR 1466, which seeks CNMI-only resident status to certain groups, including foreign parents of minor U.S. citizens.
Senate Vice President Jude U. Hofschneider (R-Tinian), chairman of the Federal Relations and Independent Agencies Committee, separately said yesterday that while the resolution is still being drafted, he supports the general idea of extending the transition period.
He said the Senate's recommendation to grant FAS-like status to long-term alien workers was not considered in the final regulations governing transitional foreign workers.
Hofschneider said the Senate would like the CNMI to have a stable workforce, so while there is still no decision to grant improved status to long-term foreign workers, he said it may be best to just extend the transition period.
He hopes the U.S. government will use that additional five-year period to decide on an improved status for foreign workers that the CNMI needs.
Under the Senate recommendation to Congress, there’s an additional five-year waiting period or until 2013 before eligible foreign workers could apply for a FAS-like status.
FAS citizens are those from Palau, the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia’s Pohnpei, Chuuk, Yap, and Kosrae.
Gov. Benigno R. Fitial, Delegate Sablan, and the Saipan Chamber of Commerce support extending the transition period, saying the CNMI needs more time to train resident workforce to take over the positions filled by foreign workers.
Close to 12,000 foreign workers have been applied for a transitional Commonwealth-only worker status, although most of the applications have yet to be approved. This means the CNMI still needs many foreign workers to help run the mainly tourism-based economy.
At least three worker groups in the CNMI do not want the transition period to be extended, and are asking the U.S. government to instead grant improved immigration status to long-term legal foreign workers.