‘Construction workers are displacing longtime workers’
Leading business and labor groups have joined the call for improved status for longtime foreign workers in the Commonwealth, revising an earlier joint resolution this month and aligning with Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ push for improved status through ongoing “Section 902” talks with the White House.
The Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Saipan Chamber of Commerce, and the Northern Mariana Islands Chapter of the Society of Human Resource Management released the revised resolution, signed by the groups’ leaders yesterday.
The joint resolution addresses a slew of federal agencies and departments and the CNMI government and now asks that “long-term guest workers in the CNMI be provided with a path to lawful permanent residency as described and recommended by the CNMI government in their 902 position paper regarding Labor and Immigration in the CNMI.”
Torres’ position paper touts how a number of these foreign workers have worked in the CNMI from a range of five to 30 years, contributing legally to economic growth, and asks that they be granted some kind of permanent status. It argues that permanent status will alleviate the adverse effects Congress promised it would minimize mandating the federal takeover of local immigration and “sunseting” the contract worker program, which provides a majority of the economic workforce in the CNMI and numbers at around 10,000 foreign workers and expires in 2019.
‘Pull out construction worker visas’
As this developed, the same groups on Wednesday asked the Saipan casino and another major resort developer on island to yank out or cancel contract worker visas for construction workers “not yet on the ground,” in order to alleviate the strain these thousands of worker slots have on a contract worker program that has been capped out this fiscal year.
The groups believe this will immediately alleviate the strain of the humanitarian crisis and impending economic collapse brought about by the departure of hundreds of foreign workers who’ve been forced to leave the Commonwealth by the end of the fiscal year, because of the breached cap.
In a “unified position” statement Wednesday, the groups said they’ve been meeting to discuss possible resolution to the issue. “Our island is losing trained workers that have contributed for years to our businesses,” they said.
The groups say they greatly appreciated the opportunity to meet with Best Sunshine International, Ltd., the Saipan casino, and Honest Profit International, Ltd. to discuss the impact of construction visas that have filled the CW1 quota and the number of visas that are behind this year’s quota, which is potentially estimated at around 5,000 by the CNMI Department of Labor.
The groups discussed the impact that the “near 7,000 CW-1 applications for construction category visas will have in replacing existing CW visa holders.”
“We expressed the humanitarian impact of this issue,” the groups said. “It displaces residents that have been in the CNMI for five to 30 years, it uproots families, possibly splitting families as workers make decisions to leave U.S.-born children behind to continue their education, or deciding to bring them to a country they have never known.”
The groups noted the overall impact to the economy that 7,000 construction visas will have in the current CW quota. “That number represents 54 percent of the total visas allowed under the current quota,” the groups said.
“CW-1 construction visas are displacing people that have been moving this economy forward over the past three decades. In this current climate of growth, our economy will collapse.”
The groups said this impact was effectively expressed to the company representatives, and they appreciate their interest in working with their organizations and potentially with the CNMI government. “We have asked, specifically, that they pull and cancel all of their construction visas for construction workers not on the ground today and convert all of them and existing CW1 construction workers to H2, and this will immediately alleviate the quota for FY2016. We see no reason why USCIS wouldn’t lift their order because in today’s economy, we would not exhaust the entire quota if construction visas are pulled out.”
The CNMI sees no cap for the H-2 visa class and business groups and Gov. Ralph DLG Torres have repeatedly stressed the need to transition construction workers to this class, apparently to the deaf ears of developers.
“We also discussed with the developers the potential of overdevelopment in the CNMI will continue to impact our quota system,” the groups went on to say. “Thus there needs to be some discussion at the developer level and at the government level about controlled growth and finding a number of rooms needed in the Commonwealth that can be supported by the available workforce. We need to determine the capability that we have to support the development, and we are going to work together in that process in the future.”
Best Sunshine, which plans to complete its casino resort in Garapan by 2017 to usher the first phase of its multibillion-dollar casino industry on Saipan—had not responded to a request for comment as of press time.
The casino was asked if they would indeed pull out its construction worker visas, if this was a business decision favorable to the casino’s goals, and how many construction workers were not “yet on the ground” but counted toward the FY 2016 cap.
The administration of Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, which has pushed for immediate administrative fixes with federal immigration officials from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on the crisis, was also asked if they backed the request made by these groups, but no response was available as of press time.