The U.S. Government Accountability Office released yesterday a 55-page report citing additional actions needed from the Department of Homeland Security on the transitional Commonwealth-only worker program, including providing the method used in allocating CW permits, at a time when CNMI employers remain uncertain whether they will still continue to have access to foreign workers beyond Dec. 31, 2014.
In its report, GAO also said the U.S. Department of Labor has not determined whether to extend the transition period. It said DOL is not required to do so until July 2014.
GAO is the investigative arm of the U.S. Congress.
“Uncertainty about the impact of the pending DHS and DOL decisions on access to foreign workers may be limiting business investment in the CNMI,” GAO said.
DHS' decision on its permit allocation for fiscal year 2013 and a U.S. Labor decision on whether and when to extend the transition period, both required by the Consolidated Natural Resources Act, are both pending.
Foreign workers made up more than half of the CNMI workforce in 2012, and CNMI businesses reported challenges in finding replacements for foreign workers.
Members of the Saipan Chamber of Commerce, the largest business organization in the CNMI, indicated that uncertainty over pending federal actions has caused them to limit their plans for future investments in the CNMI.
The GAO report, prepared by GAO director for International Affairs and Trade David Gootnick, recommends that the DHS secretary (1) provide, on publication of its permit allocations, the methodology used and (2) use DOL analyses as a factor in deciding future permit allocations.
DHS agreed to publish its methodology but will wait to review DOL analyses until they are available before deciding to use them, GAO said.
It added that DHS plans to announce the permit allocation for fiscal year 2013 by the end of September 2012.
“Knowledge of DHS' methodology could help allay any public uncertainty regarding future access to foreign workers in the CNMI,” GAO said.
DHS' Sept. 7, 2011, final rule establishing the transitional work permit program in the CNMI addressed key requirements of the CNRA or U.S. Public Law 110-229, the law that placed CNMI immigration under federal control.
Press secretary Angel Demapan, when asked for comment, said yesterday that the Fitial administration supports the continued use of foreign labor in the economy, with the CW-1 permit as a mechanism for the use of foreign labor.
“We applaud the efforts of this GAO report. We highly recommend that the report provide a more comprehensive survey or assessment on what the current businesses needs are. We recommend that the report provide further recommendations to Congress on what capacity and resources are necessary to identify the needs of businesses and any new investors, not just prevent an impact to the CNMI economy during the transition, but for expansion beyond the transitional period,” Demapan said.
GAO said as of July 12, DHS had processed about half of the petitions for work permits that employers submitted in fiscal year 2012.
But more recent data from DHS' U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services shows that 7,128 or 58 percent of 12,311 foreign workers petitioned for a CW status have so far been granted CW permits as of Sept. 25, 2012.
The remaining 5,183 that are still without CW permits include those petitions still awaiting response from the employer or those who have yet to respond to “requests for evidence.”
A full copy of the GAO report can be viewed at http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-12-975.