CNMI DOL has no authority on type of employers petition

Over 5K construction workers for BSI approved for exemption

The CNMI Department of Labor said it does not have the authority to regulate the classification of visa or status that an employer uses to petition their employees.

The question of what the government has done to ensure that the CNMI-only transitional worker petitions and status truly goes to those who need it and not to those who can qualify under a different status has been brought up by some members of the public.

“It’s not a matter of us doing it because obviously that’s out of our approval perimeter. But if it comes down to those employers, we’re really encouraging them to apply under the appropriate H2-B and H1 categories so that it leaves that breathing room for the CW-1 for those who do not qualify for any other visa category,” Labor Secretary Edith DeLeon Guerrero told Saipan Tribune.

“Also, you would want to look at that at the federal level, that perhaps maybe looking at those petitions that are coming in, that if they truly qualify under H2-B maybe some sort of advisement or encouragement to the company that they can process them under H2,” she added.

DeLeon Guerrero said that they only issue certain certifications such as the job vacancy announcements and exemptions to the workforce participation

“It’s an employer petition. We have no role in that,” DeLeon Guerrero said.

“It’s beyond us because obviously we don’t control immigration anymore, we don’t issue the visas so employers go to the petition process, our role is we issue the JVA certification and any other certification that may be sought after by the authorities, otherwise the approval process of the adjudication process is all on the federal government,” she added.

Construction workers

The CNMI DOL, however, said it monitors closely those who were granted exemption for workforce participation—or the rule that requires 30 percent of the workforce be local residents or U.S. citizens.

Under the Northern Mariana Islands Administrative Code Subchapter 80-20.1:Employment Rules and Regulations,” the Labor secretary can issue an exemption for a “particular construction project” with “particular” meaning limited to one building or one infrastructure improvement and with “limited duration” meaning two years or less. 

So far, the Labor Department has approved 5,284 workers to be exempt in the workforce participation.

These workers are “related to the Grand Mariana project in Garapan” according to DeLeon Guerrero.

While the 1,000 of this total number was just approved recently and can be assumed that “it is not eating up the current cap,” the earlier approved 4,284 might be.

DeLeon Guerrero said they will be looking at that data to see if those workers were already petitioned and if the employer went through the process.

“If they’re coming from China, then obviously, they are not part of the eligible list of countries [for H visa] so logically, you can see where it’s going to go. It’s going to eat into the allocation of CW-1 visa,” DeLeon Guerrero said.

“We will be looking on the quarterly workforce listing based on the exemptions that are issued to certain companies,” she added.

Based on their earlier tally, there were 1,251 construction workers in the CNMI, a number of which can be petitioned under H2-B since they are Filipinos.

DeLeon Guerrero said she is hopeful that the 902 talks will be fruitful and that there will be an immediate remedy to the current issue that the Commonwealth is facing.

“We all hope for something good to come out of the 902 conversations and discussions,” DeLeon Guerrero said.

“I personally feel, I’m confident that there will be some remedy to address the issue that we’re facing,” she added.

Frauleine S. Villanueva-Dizon | Reporter
Frauleine Michelle S. Villanueva was a broadcast news producer in the Philippines before moving to the CNMI to pursue becoming a print journalist. She is interested in weather and environmental reporting but is an all-around writer. She graduated cum laude from the University of Santo Tomas with a degree in Journalism and was a sportswriter in the student publication.

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