Bill to delay ‘touchback’ rule for three years is introduced


Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (D-MP) introduced Tuesday a legislation that delays for three years the “touchback provision” of the Northern Marianas Islands U.S. Workforce Act, Public Law 115-218.

Sablan’s legislation, H.R. 1420, seeks to modify the requirement for foreign workers in the CNMI—called Commonwealth-Only Transitional Workers (CW-1)—to exit the CNMI while the renewal of their work visa is being processed.

The bill was referred to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources and Committee on the Judiciary.

The touchback provision requires CNMI employers to send CW-1 visa holders back to their home country at least every three years.

Sablan said in his his e-kilili newsletter over the weekend that this was problematic during the COVID-19 pandemic, when air flights were interrupted and costly and home country ingress (entry) requirements made it difficult for workers to return. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services did delay the touchback requirement for one year for some workers. The USCIS announcement in October 2022 said it would only count consecutive CW petitions with start dates on or after June 18, 2020, against the three-year touchback requirement. This meant that hundreds of CW-1 workers did not have to leave the CNMI until the end of their 2024 validity period.

The touchback rule was part of a broad agreement among the Marianas business community, the Commonwealth government, and a bipartisan, bicameral congressional working group that led to then-President Donald Trump signing the U.S. Workforce Act into law. Sablan said the law was intended to decrease reliance on foreign workers and encourage investment in the Marianas’ own local workforce.

Sablan noted that, from 2020 to 2021, according to the report required by the U.S. Workforce Act, the number of U.S. workers employed in the Marianas held steady near 13,000. Sablan noted that the pandemic may have been largely the reason for this.

Sablan was referring to then-governor Ralph DLG Torres’ CNMI ratio report for fiscal year 2022 dated Oct. 31, 2022 and submitted to Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas. Torres’ report, which was prepared by the CNMI Department of Labor, provided details on the number of U.S. workers and other workers in the CNMI based on income tax filings for Tax Year 2021.

However, based on the recent numbers provided by Gov. Arnold I. Palacios, the number of foreign workers have now fallen to about 8,000 to 6,000.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at
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