Senators adopted Wednesday a House joint resolution fully supporting a five-year extension of the transitional Commonwealth-only worker program for the islands’ 12,000-some foreign workers.
The Senate followed the House’s lead in adopting House Joint Resolution 18-5 to give the CNMI “an adequate amount of time to fully adjust to the transition.”
“The government and private sector considers that losing access to skilled foreign workers will hamper the rise of our tourism-based economy in a major way,” the resolution partly reads.
Lawmakers supporting the resolution said extending the transition period beyond Dec. 31, 2014, would simply better fit the phase-out of foreign workers to an economically realistic timeframe.
They also said that an adjustment could be necessary to prevent uncertainty over the availability of labor beyond 2014 that could impede any recovery.
“A grant of a five-year extension would not subvert the goal of U.S. Public Law 110-229 to replace foreign workers in the CNMI with U.S. workers because employers would continue to be required to demonstrate the unavailability of a qualified U.S. worker before they are allowed to hire a foreign worker,” the resolution, introduced by Rep. Trenton Conner (Ind-Tinian), says.
PL 110-229 is the law that placed CNMI immigration under federal control effective November 2009.
It provided a five-year transition period ending Dec. 31, 2014.
This U.S. law provides that 180 days prior to the expiration of the transition, the U.S. Labor secretary may extend the program. This decision is in consultation with the secretaries of the U.S. Departments of Homeland Security, Defense, and the Interior as well as the CNMI governor.
HJR 18-5 is addressed to the heads of the U.S. departments of Labor, Homeland Security, Defense, and the Interior, along with Gov. Eloy S. Inos, Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) and the CNMI Legislature.
Inos and Sablan also separately wrote to U.S. officials early this year to extend the transition period.
Skilled and professional foreign workers, mostly from the Philippines and China, account for some 54 percent of the workforce in the CNMI.
Many of them have been working legally in the CNMI for more than five years, including as nurses, accountants, engineers, electricians, mechanics, carpenters, house workers, and hotel and restaurant employees, among other positions.