Chamber outlines CW-1 ‘wish list’

Saipan Chamber of Commerce president Velma Palacios speaks at yesterday’s meeting at the Saipan World Resort. (Bea Cabrera)

Saipan Chamber of Commerce president Velma Palacios speaks at yesterday’s meeting at the Saipan World Resort. (Bea Cabrera)

The Saipan Chamber of Commerce has come up with a “wish list” that it hopes the U.S. Congress will act on to help sustain the CNMI’s workforce and economy.

At its general membership meeting yesterday at the Saipan World Resort, Chamber president Velma Palacios also affirmed that a consultant has been hired in Washington, D.C. to help the Chamber in its efforts with the visa program for foreign workers. She did not identify the consultant’s name.

“The Northern Marianas Business Alliance Corp. has been officially organized and has hired a consultant in D.C. to help us in our efforts with our CW-1 program,” said Palacios. “Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and [Delegate Gregorio] Kilili [C. Sablan (Ind-MP)] have asked the business community and private sector for help and organizing this alliance is how we are going to help them.”

The NMBAC aims to get a comprehensive legislation passed to keep the CW-1 program running beyond its mandated expiration in 2019. The legislation contains the alliance’s wish list—the points that the business community hopes to get acted upon by Congress.

“We have eight points that we wish to be addressed and considered for the continuation of the expiring program,” said Palacios.

The transition period should be amended to extend but not beyond 2029.

Revert back the extension authority to the U.S. Secretary of Labor and amend the law to allow for extension increments of 10 years;

Add the U.S. Government Accountability Office review of transition’s progress every five years for congressional review;

The prevailing wages requirements for CW-1 visa holders should be based on the CNMI economy. Right now, the CNMI relies on the prevailing wages rates of Hawaii and Guam;

To require employers to file for a temporary labor certification with the CNMI governor through the CNMI Department of Labor at least 40 days prior to the need for the worker’s services and the bill should mandate the Department of Homeland Security to promulgate regulations to guide this, similar to how it is done in Guam;

To address the use of CW-1 visas for construction workers and increase the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services fee to $200;

Equipping CNMI with a tool to monitor people with CW-1 visas so the NMI can effectively manage its CW-1 quota and the number of workers needed to run the economy.

For the CNMI to request more countries to be added to the approved list in the Guam-CNMI waiver program.

The alliance is set to meet with the CNMI government working group in June and lobby on every single provision on the wish list, Palacios said.

“We sent the working group bullet points of our wish list. There is going to be a discussion and we are hoping to have something because time is of the essence. We know the legislative process takes time and we have to get it approved next year at the latest. We are hoping for 100-percent approval. We need some type of CW program and we are hoping we can work on this and compromise,” Palacios added.

Jill Arenovski, the chamber’s executive director, said that Sablan is there to guide the Chamber on what is realistic.

“He knows the feeling, he knows the players much more than anybody. He is going to be the one and the governor to decide. We don’t think we will ask for something we think we will not get but we will remain realistic and reasonable. It may not be everything we want, but it should still produce some type of program.”

The alliance is made up of the Saipan Chamber of Commerce members, the Society for Human Resources Management, the Hotel Associations of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Strategic Economic Development Council, and other major businesses like T-Galleria, Triple J, and Imperial Pacific International, Ltd. Alex Sablan chairs the alliance.

BEA CABRERA

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