WASHINGTON, D.C.—The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Northern Mariana Islands U.S. Workforce Act today.
Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) managed the bill for Democrats. Natural Resources Committee chair Rob Bishop of Utah managed for the Republicans. The two men introduced the legislation, H.R. 5956, on May 24, and have been working together on its provisions since 2016.
The legislation winds down, over a 10-year period, the current foreign labor program and other policies that transitioned the Marianas into the U.S. immigration system. It contains significant new protections for U.S. workers from unfair competition from foreign labor and incentivizes employers to hire U.S. workers. The legislation also takes aim at fraud and abuse of the system to protect the legitimate local businesses that still depend on foreign workers.
In his statement on the bill, Sablan emphasized new requirements that no U.S. worker can be passed over for a job and that protect wages and working conditions for U.S. workers.
“Also, the fees that employers pay will be put to effective use, providing better training and apprenticeship opportunities for U.S. workers,” he added.
The bill is widely popular in the Marianas. It has broad support from elected officials, the business community, and the general public in the Marianas because it ensures that the current economic growth can continue.
Bipartisan effort produces results
Sablan also used his time on the floor of the House to thank Bishop and other members of the bipartisan, bicameral working group that crafted the legislation.
“In particular, I am grateful to Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Maria Cantwell, who lead the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee,” said Sablan. “Senate Judiciary Committee [chair] Chuck Grassley has also been deeply involved.
“Without this underlying bipartisanship we would never have been able to get the bill through Congress.”
The group first tackled Marianas labor issues in late 2016, after a surge in Chinese construction workers blocked local businesses access to labor. The group responded with legislation that President Trump signed into U.S. Public Law 115-53 in August 2017.
Building on that success the bipartisan group then developed a consensus on how to wind down the transition period over the next 10 years, while providing tough, new protections for both U.S. workers and local businesses in the Marianas.
“By listening to each other, and because we share a common concern to better the lives of Americans—even Americans in the far-away Marianas,” Sablan explained, “we succeeded in agreeing on this second bill, the U.S. Workforce Act.
The Marianas delegate also thanked his constituents for their help. “During the almost 10 years I have been in office, so many constituents have shared their experiences with me and given me their ideas on what federal policy would best fit our islands.
“I listened to them and spoke for them. And we have incorporated their experiences and their ideas into the U.S. Workforce Act,” said Sablan.
“I believe my constituents’ needs are well represented, because the legislation has the full support of the Marianas governor and Legislature, of the business community, and of the men and women who meet and talk with me in everyday life.”
H.R. 5956 now goes to the Senate for approval. Virtually identical legislation already passed the Senate by unanimous consent in April. (PR)