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Monday, April 21, 2014

Accountability sought on CW fees
‘Has any US worker trained using CW fee gotten hired?’

Besides seeking extensions on the transitional Commonwealth-only worker and E2C investor visa programs up to 2019, Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) is also demanding accountability and performance standards on the $150 CW fee that’s supposed to train and get U.S. workers employed, now that remittances from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services have reached millions.

The CNMI Senate, meanwhile, has yet to act on the CNMI House of Representatives’ five-month-old bill allocating the CW funds.

Under Rep. Trenton Conner’s (Ind-Tinian) House Bill 18-97, 30 percent of the CW funds should be for a technical education program; 50 percent for vocational education program; and 20 percent for the Office of the Governor for other government and private sector vocational education and job training programs.

Sablan wants information on how the Northern Marianas College and Public School System are using the CW money they have gotten—and will get annually—as long as there are foreign workers under the CW program.

The delegate also seeks data whether any U.S. worker who has gotten training funded by the CW fee has gotten a job.

CNMI employers pay $150 in education funding fee for each foreign worker they petition for a CW status, as required by U.S. Public Law 110-229, the law that placed CNMI immigration under federal control on Oct. 28, 2009.

On Thursday (Friday, CNMI time), the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources approved an omnibus territories bill that not only would extend up to 2019 the CW and E2C programs that are supposed to end after Dec. 31, 2014, but demands accountability on the use of CW fees.

The bill, S. 1237, still has to go through full U.S. Senate and House of Representatives for a vote before heading to President Barack Obama.

The legislation includes a plan for the expenditure of funds.

At the beginning of each fiscal year, and prior to the payment of the supplemental fee into the CNMI Treasury in that fiscal year, the CNMI government must provide to the Labor secretary “a plan for the expenditure of funds, a projection of the effectiveness of these expenditures in the placement of United States workers into jobs, and a report on the changes in employment of United States workers attributable to prior year expenditures.”

The Labor secretary is also required to report to U.S. Congress every two years on the effectiveness of meeting the goals set out by the Commonwealth government in its annual plan for the expenditure of funds.

The Congressional Research Service’s plain language summary of S. 1237 also says the bill “revises the treatment of supplemental fees imposed for employment of nonimmigrant workers paid into the Treasury of the CNMI government for the purpose of funding ongoing vocational educational curricula and program development by CNMI educational entities.”

Days before the U.S. Senate committee’s passage of the bill, Sablan said the $150 fee “is supposed to be used to train U.S. workers.”

“But, so far, what happens is the fee gets handed over to the Commonwealth government. The Commonwealth government gives part to PSS and part to NMC. And we have no way, no idea whether it results in moving U.S. workers into existing jobs in our economy,” Sablan said.

He said S. 1237 “tightens up” the requirements in how the CW funds are used.

“There has to be a plan. There has to be a target number of U.S. workers who will get jobs. There has to be a report back to Congress every year on whether the system is working. If it’s not, then we will change it,” he added.

The CNMI is still awaiting U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez’s decision on the Commonwealth’s request to extend the transition period beyond Dec. 31, 2014.

Without an extension of the CW program, the CNMI loses immediate access to some 10,000 foreign skilled and professional workers, mostly from the Philippines, that the CNMI economy has relied upon for years and decades.

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