Gov. Ralph DLG Torres was on the telephone with U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) yesterday morning, during which the congressman reportedly affirmed that he is committed to passing legislation that increases the number of slots in the CNMI’s foreign worker program and extends its sunset clause.
Torres, who said he talked with Bishop at 7am yesterday, described the conversation as “excellent.”
The two reportedly discussed getting legislation through the U.S. Congress on the extension of the CW-1 program beyond 2019 as well as the addition of slots for the program, which is currently set at 4,999 slots for fiscal year 2019. The program provides a temporary solution to the lack of manpower in the CNMI by allowing foreign nationals to lawfully work on an annual basis through the issuance of CW-1 permits, which are unique only to the NMI.
“My call with Chairman Bishop was excellent and is a reaffirmation of his commitment to work closely with me on passing the legislation in the House within a reasonable and expeditious timeframe. We have plans put in place, so I’ll be providing updates as we move forward,” said Torres in a statement.
Torres also expressed his willingness to assist Congress “in any way.”
“I do wish to respectfully ask for your consideration of the urgency of this legislation,” said Torres in his letter to Bishop dated May 22, 2018. “As I have mentioned in previous communications and on our recent call, our islands’ sole hospital is in dire need of a solution to our labor issues in order to maintain critical healthcare services to our people.”
Torres highlighted the fact that the lack of workers would not only affect the healthcare services in the CNMI, but also the economy as businesses experience difficulties as they “anticipate a dramatic reduction in available manpower come Oct. 1, 2018.”
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced in late November 2017 that they would be cutting the number of CW-1 slots in anticipation of its slated sunset on Dec. 31, 2019. USCIS set the CW cap for fiscal year 2018 at 9,998 and 4,999 for fiscal year 2019, while also utilizing a lottery system for the selection process for fiscal year 2019.
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) previously introduced legislation that addressed the end of the CW-1 program as well as the slot limitation for fiscal year 2019.
S. 2325, or the U.S. Workforce Act, received unanimous support from the U.S. Senate; however, one of its amendments, which included an anti-fraud fee to be paid by employers, was considered a revenue-generating provision by the U.S. House Parliamentarian. Only the House may introduce legislation that generates revenue, said the House Parliamentarian, according to Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) in a previous statement.
Together with Murkowski’s introduction of S. 2325 in the U.S. Senate, Sablan had introduced H.R. 4869 in the U.S. House of Representatives, an exact copy of S. 2325 in its original form, prior to the U.S. Senate amendments.
In the same statement, Sablan said the new version of the CW program extension championed by Bishop would include the anti-fraud fee.