CW bill heads to US Senate floor

Substitute bill reported out

Legislation to extend the transition period of the CNMI foreign worker program beyond Dec. 31, 2019, now heads to the U.S. Senate after the U.S. Senate Committee tasked with reviewing the bill reported it out last week.

The U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, chaired by U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), ordered S.2325—which she also introduced—to be reported out by the committee during their meeting in Washington, D.C. last Thursday.

According to the U.S. Congress website, the committee ordered the bill to be reported with an amendment in the nature of a substitute.

All that remains for S.2325 to be enacted into law is passage in the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House committee tasked to review it, the U.S. House, and U.S. President Donald J. Trump’s signature.

In a statement soon after the bill went out of the committee, Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) said the bicameral, bipartisan working group that drafted the original bill, along with representatives of federal agencies and the Commonwealth government and input from additional congressional committees, worked intensively on revising the bill to make sure it does what it is intended to do and can win passage in Congress.

“All the key provisions from the Act as introduced remain,” Sablan said. “The transition program continues for another 10 years. We add 8,001 CW permits for 2019, lifting the cap to 13,000. Local workers are protected from unfair competition by cheap foreign labor. Local businesses will not be undercut by bad actors who use up hundreds of CW permits. And CW workers who have worked lawfully and contributed to our community over the years will be eligible for special treatment with a renewable, three-year permit.

“We had a good bill when we introduced the Northern Mariana Islands U.S. Workforce Act seven weeks ago. We have an even better bill now,” said Sablan. “But there is still much work to do in the Senate and then in the House. And nothing is for certain.”

In a statement, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres said he remains thankful to Murkowski for directing its passage and action on the U.S. Senate floor for consideration.

“Through recommendations that myself, my office, the Legislature, the [Northern Marianas Business Alliance Corp.], and our community, we now have a bill that is better than it was before: a bill that provides relief for businesses, employees, and families and will allow our progress to continue so that we can get more opportunities for U.S. workers,” the statement added.

S.2325 seeks to extend the CNMI transition period to 2029, effectively extending the CW program and the E-2C investor program. According to documents Saipan Tribune obtained last week, S.2325 drops the term CW-3, which allows its holders work eligibility for a period of three years and is renewed every three years. Instead, the new bill allows the issuance of CW-1 permits with a three-year validity.

A separate statement from the Torres administration said: “As a point of clarification, the CW-3 permit was not ‘dropped’ during the markup process. The original intent and substance from the CW-3 language is still there in a subsection on page 17 of the bill labeled, ‘(B) Long-term workers.’ It’s referred to more accurately protect long-term workers and CW workers who have contributed to our community and economy since [fiscal year] 2015. This was recommended by the governor from the beginning of this legislative process to fix the problems caused by H.R. 339.”

The substitute also bumped up the CW cap for fiscal year 2019 up to 13,000, with reductions of 500 each year up to fiscal year 2023. From fiscal year 2024 onwards, the CW cap reductions would be at 1,000 annually, while the CW cap for fiscal year 2030 would be set at 1,000 and is only valid during the first quarter.

Erwin Encinares | Reporter
Erwin Charles Tan Encinares holds a bachelor’s degree from the Chiang Kai Shek College and has covered a wide spectrum of assignments for the Saipan Tribune. Encinares is the paper’s political reporter.

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