Senate President Jude Hofschneider (R-Tinian) said yesterday that a committee will be tasked to revisit the Senate's three-year-old recommendation to grant long-term foreign workers in the CNMI an immigration status similar to those granted to citizens of Freely Associated States, or other improved status depending on input from stakeholders. This is in light of the Dec. 31, 2014 expiration of the transitional Commonwealth-only worker program, which will put an end to the CNMI's access to foreign workers.
Rep. Tony Sablan (IR-Saipan), a former CNMI immigration director, separately said yesterday that he will be pushing for a unified House position requesting the U.S. Secretary of Labor to extend the transition period.
Sablan said CNMI stakeholders-businesses, workers, and the government-should be able to know by 2013 whether the transition period will be extended beyond 2014.
“To wait until next year will cause greater uncertainty among stakeholders,” he said.
He said businesses, for example, should be able to plan at least a year or two ahead whether to expand, retain or close their business.
He said if there are no skilled and professional foreign workers available and the U.S. workers pool is still not enough, then there is no sense keeping their business open. In the end, the tourism industry and the whole economy will suffer.
Sablan believes that how the U.S. government addresses the issue of long-term legal foreign workers in the CNMI could determine its action on the millions of illegal migrant workers in the United States, instead of the other way around.
At the Senate, Hofschneider said he will give the task of revising the status recommendation as well as position statement on the transition period, to the Committee on Federal Relations and Independent Agencies. He used to chair this committee in the previous Legislature.
He said the CNMI's tourism-based economic development relies on businesses' continued ability to access foreign workers if the existing U.S. worker pool is still unable to meet industry needs.
“We would ask for an extension of the transition period until 2019, at the same time, recommend improved status to certain guest workers,” he said.
Hofschneider said the Senate FRIA panel would be working with other agencies, the foreign workers, the Saipan Chamber of Commerce and the Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands in coming up with an updated recommendation on the status of foreign workers and the transition period.
Rene Reyes, founding president of Marianas Advocates for Humanitarian Affairs Ltd., reiterated yesterday their position that long-term legal foreign workers should be granted improved immigration status, including “green card.” This has also been the long-time request of other worker groups such as Dekada Movement and United Workers Movement-NMI.
Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) is also working on a broader version of his H.R. 1466 granting CNMI-only resident status to five groups of foreigners in the CNMI.