Governor signs bill on limit to residency

Posted on Mar 08 1999

A controversial legislation seeking to limit to three consecutive years the maximum allowable period for nonresidents to work in the Northern Marianas was signed into law by Gov. Pedro P. Tenorio despite strong opposition from businessmen.

The new measure, designed to curb influx of alien workers and reduce the island economy’s dependence on foreign labor, mandates all guest workers to exit the Commonwealth periodically before they will be allowed to seek re-employment, a provision employers described as impractical, costly and a boon to business.

Under Public Law 11-69, nonresident employees must leave the islands at the end of a three-year employment and stay outside CNMI for a period of not less than six months.

However, foreign workers holding professional or executive positions and whose annual salaries are at least $30,000 or $14.42 per hour are exempted from the three-year limit.

“We all recognize that we need nonresident workers to supplement our work force. But it is imperative to our social and economic survival that the CNMI begin working toward a future where we are not as dependent upon nonresident workers,” Tenorio wrote to legislators Friday.

The implementation of the law is expected to draw sharp criticisms from businessmen already burdened by a restriction to bring in alien workers into CNMI since last year.

The Saipan Chamber of Commerce and the Hotel Association of Northern Mariana Islands have opposed the measure, introduced by Sen. Juan P. Tenorio, in fear it would cost them additional expenses while profits are declining and disrupt their business operations.

“I sympathize with and understand the positions of all parties. However, I believe the advantages of this bill outweigh the negatives…In the long run, such action will serve to benefit our island community,” the governor said, as he promised to explore financial incentives to encourage employers to tap the local labor pool.

There are an estimated 28,000 to 30,000 foreign workers in the Northern Marianas, holding more than 90 percent of the jobs in the private sector, and their growth on the islands has worried federal officials due to a string of social and economic problems arising from their presence.

Local employers prefer to hire foreigners, mostly from impoverished Asian countries, because of lack of available skilled workers, as well as relatively low salaries.

High pay and better benefits attract the indigenous population to work in the government, but with the administration’s streamlining policy due to shrinking revenues, locals are forced to seek jobs in the private sector.

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