1st round of 902 talks set for June 6 in DC

Gov. Ralph DLG Torres will meet with President Barack Obama’s special representative Esther Kia’aina, the assistant secretary for the Department of Interior for Insular Affairs, on June 6 in the nation’s capitol to begin the first round of official consultation between the CNMI and the U.S. government, Saipan Tribune learned yesterday.

The talks come pursuant to section 902 of the CNMI Covenant and will center on the issues of an expiring foreign worker program in 2019 and advancing military projects in the CNMI.

Accompanying Torres on the trip in D.C. will be several members of the 902 panel who are scheduled to leave on June 3, Saipan Tribune gathered yesterday. A full roster of the team, though, which is expected to draw from the Legislature, local departments, and the private sector, have not been finalized yet and made public.

Still, members of the working group met yesterday for preliminary talks ahead of the official consultation with Kia’aina’s team next week. Department heads met yesterday with Torres and key staff.

The governor is also seeking legal expertise in immigration, environmental, and Department of Defense issues on the team, Torres officials said.

Other than tapping legal expertise from the global law firm Dentons—the same group of lawyers that consulted Torres and the late governor Eloy S. Inos on pressing U.S. military plans for the NMI—the Torres administration has also reached who they view as one of the “top” immigration lawyers nation-wide. However, this attorney’s name has not been made public yet.

Preparation for the 902 talks comes as the CNMI braces for the yet-to-be-defined impact of reaching its federally mandated cap of contract workers allowed to work in the CNMI.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced this month that it had reached the its cap of 12,999 CW permits for foreign workers and that no more applications would be accepted for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2016, forcing an unknown number of workers with permits expiring before Sept. 30 to leave the Commonwealth.

Torres officials said yesterday they would be making “recommendations,” expected to center on the administration of the contact worker program on the federal side, during consultations with Kia’aina.

Torres, who will be the “special representative” for the CNMI, unlike previous 902 talks where former governors appointed their lieutenant governor to lead talks, and his panel are expected to push for an extension of the contract worker program past its 2019 expiration.

Torres reportedly eyes an extension of 15 years with 15,000 contract workers to be employed in the CNMI.

This extension is eyed as the “long-term” solution to the program, which allows for thousands of foreign workers to live and be employed in the Commonwealth and provide the lifeblood of the economy.

Dennis B. Chan | Reporter
Dennis Chan covers education, environment, utilities, and air and seaport issues in the CNMI. He graduated with a degree in English Literature from the University of Guam. Contact him at dennis_chan@saipantribune.com.

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