WASHINGTON, DC—The Senate passed the Northern Mariana Islands U.S. Workforce Act this evening, Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (Ind-MP) announced. Sablan authored the legislation along with Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).
The Sablan/Murkowski bill resets the number of Commonwealth-only Transitional Workers to 13,000 for fiscal year 2019, two more than allowed in fiscal 2017, and then gradually winds down the foreign worker program over a ten-year period. The U.S. Workforce Act also contains significant new protections for U.S. workers from unfair competition from cheap foreign labor. And it protects local Marianas businesses with long-established relationships with CW employees from competition for permits from outside businesses.
“First, I want to thank Senator Murkowski for her partnership,” Congressman Sablan said. “We began working on this policy together in 2017 and gradually built a working group of offices, representing House and Senate and Republicans and Democrats, to find common ground.
“Our strategy was to move the bill through the Senate, which can be more difficult, and then work in the House.
“Now, we have reached that first milestone of Senate passage, and I will be turning my efforts to winning passage in the House,” Kilili said.
Murkowski and Sablan introduced the U.S. Workforce Act simultaneously in the House and the Senate on January 19. Murkowski quickly followed with a hearing on the bill in the Senate Energy and Commerce Committee, which she chairs, on Feb. 6.
Because of the buy-in and consensus that Murkowski and Sablan had achieved with other offices during the long period of the bill’s development it was possible to have the bill reported out of committee and then placed on the Senate agenda on March 20.
Over the following month, Murkowski, Sablan, and Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell, Ranking Member on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, fielded inquiries from Senate offices that had not been directly involved in putting the U.S. Workforce Act together. The result was unanimous agreement in the Senate this evening to pass the bill.
Legislative action comes none too soon. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which administers the CW program, has already begun the process of granting fiscal year 2019 CW permits. Sablan has requested on multiple occasions that the agency take a wait-and-see approach on next year’s permits, while the U.S. Workforce Act moved through Congress and to avoid negatively impacting the Marianas economy. But USCIS has, so far, declined. (PR)