WASHINGTON, D.C.—Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) says that the congressional oversight hearing scheduled for next Tuesday, Sept. 13, will be an opportunity to highlight the current economic turnaround in the Marianas and to lay out the challenges to continuing that development.
The hearing was announced late yesterday by the House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular, and Alaska Native Affairs.
Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and Alex Sablan, chair of the Strategic Economic Development Council’s CW and Labor Task Force, are among the witnesses invited to testify.
“Thanks to Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop and Chairman Don Young of the Subcommittee for agreeing to my request to convene this oversight hearing,” said Sablan, who is vice ranking member of the Natural Resources Committee. “With the current increase in investment and the difficulties surrounding the Commonwealth-only transitional worker program I think the time is right.”
Sablan arranged for Bishop’s committee staff to meet with business leaders in the Marianas last month as part of the Congressman’s effort to obtain a hearing. “I appreciate the time that Mr. Alex Sablan, Ms. Gloria Cavanagh of the Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands, Ms. Velma Palacios of the Saipan Chamber of Commerce, and Mr. Frank Gibson of the Society of Human Resource Managers all took to meet with the staff, when they were on island, and help persuade them of the need for a hearing.
“The business leaders made a convincing case,” Sablan said.
Entitled “Reviewing the economic impacts from the implementation of the Commonwealth-only worker program in the Northern Mariana Islands under Public Law 110-229,” the hearing will focus especially on the availability of labor.
Public Law 110-229, the Consolidated Natural Resources Act, extended U.S. immigration law to the Northern Marianas, beginning in 2009. The law created the special Commonwealth-only (CW) immigration classification to allow foreign workers into the Marianas, but that program ends on December 31, 2019.
In the meantime, employers of the current 12,999 CW workers will have to replace them with U.S. citizens or permanent residents, with citizens from the neighboring Freely Associated States in the Pacific, or with foreign workers having some other work visa status.
The Northern Marianas’ remote location and low-wage economy can make recruiting difficult, however. And with CW workers comprising almost half of the total workforce in the Marianas, failure to replace them would cripple the economy, which is experiencing a growth spurt.
Torres and his Section 902 team put forward proposals for a long-term solution, when they met with the Special Representative of President Obama in June. And Congressman Sablan has introduced legislation mirroring those proposals.
“That bill could form the basis of a legislative resolution to the labor needs of the Commonwealth economy,” Sablan said.
“At the hearing the Commonwealth witnesses will be able to lay out the case for legislative action. But they have to be ready to answer some tough questions, and be able to show that there is a local plan in place to train, recruit, and hire U.S. workers,” Sablan added.
The oversight hearing is set for Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016 at 11am in Washington, which is 1am Wednesday, Sept. 14, in the CNMI. Committee hearings are streamed live on the committee website at http://naturalresources.house.gov. (PR)