A business alliance created specifically to address the CNMI’s workforce issues believes that legislation must be crafted at the level of the U.S. Congress to make provisions of Public Law 110-229 more viable for the CNMI economy.
The Northern Marianas Business Alliance Corp. came to this conclusion during Wednesday’s Social Economic Development Council meeting at the Office of the Governor on Capital Hill.
The meeting was hastily called in response to U.S. Citizenship and Imigration Services implementing a 3,000-slot decrease in the CNMI-Only Transitional Worker program for fiscal year 2018.
P.L. 110-229 placed CNMI immigration under federal control and gave birth to the CW program.
At the SEDC meeting, it was agreed that the group should ask for the community’s support to show Congress why a reduction in the number of CW-1 workers is not viable to the economy and why the Commonwealth needs an extension for its foreign workforce program beyond 2019.
Viola Alepuyo, legal counsel for Imperial Pacific International, Ltd. and NMBAC member, said a signature drive must be done to show community support for Delegate Gregrio Kilili C. Sablan’s (Ind-MP) H.R. 5888, which calls for the extension of the federally mandated phaseout deadline from 2019 to 2029. The legislation also calls for an increase in the CW cap to 18,000.
“If you guys are willing to undertake getting signatures either with employees or community members, let us know. We need the community to speak about how this reduction is going to affect them,” she said.
NMBAC chair Alex Sablan said a task force is in place to lobby the office of Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) on why an extension is necessary.
“We at NMBAC is going to lobby hard with Grassley’s committee…and I am sure that the governor has got meetings established as well,” he said.
“So this is why we absolutely need to get there and start lobbying hard. We need legislation that we all agree on and that Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Gregorio Kilili Sablan’s office can jointly submit so we can have a unified approach,” he said.
The aim is to get a change of heart and a change of mind and to explain why an abrupt cut in workers could set up the CNMI as another Puerto Rico or U.S. Virgin Islands, Sablan added.
Gov. Ralph DLG Torres pointed out that the CNMI is not asking for a single penny from Congress.
“We are not asking for any penny from D.C., just action not to cut 3,000 slots in the CW-1 program. We are not asking for any assistance other than help us sustain our economic growth by not cutting the numbers,” he said.
“Because of the economic growth the CNMI is experiencing, for the first time in 20 years, we are paying our government debt. The government was able to pay salaries, get wage increases for the people, [and] pay our retirees,” Torres added.
Alex Sablan said that getting the message out must be done quickly.
“Prior to the USCIS announcement, NMBAC met last week as it was our intent to get a delegation to go to D.C. in early December to make that door-knocking session happen and whatever data we get from the government, businesses, employers, and the community,” he said.
“We are hopeful to use this as a basis since they have a blank sheet in legislative writing and negotiate provisional changes that make sense,” he added.