The U.S. Senate passed early yesterday morning a federal legislation that effectively extends the sunset provision of the CNMI transitional period for another 10 years, along with other provisions.
The U.S. Senate unanimously passed Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R-AK) S.2325 in a voice vote during a session yesterday.
S. 2325, also known as the Northern Marianas U.S. Workforce Act, sets the CNMI-Only Transitional Worker cap for fiscal year 2019 at 13,000; provides additional validity to long-time CW workers; and extends the CNMI transitional period, along with programs under it such as the CW program and the E-2C investor program, from fiscal year 2019 to 2029.
Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) introduced a similar bill to the U.S. House floor—H.R. 4869—the same day Murkowski introduced S. 2325.
“Now, we have reached that first milestone of Senate passage, and I will be turning my efforts to winning passage in the House,” said Sablan in a statement yesterday.
He added that the strategy on the bill is to first push the bill through the U.S. Senate before working with the U.S. House. The U.S. Senate amended a previous legislation drafted by Sablan that opens up over 2,000 CW slots for fiscal year 2017. The legislation, also known as H.R. 339, was amended in the U.S. Senate and was watered down to just 350 additional slots.
With the passage of S. 2325, the CNMI is a step closer to putting off the end of the CNMI transition period, slated for Dec. 31, 2019, according to current federal law.
In a November 2017 communication, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that the CW cap for fiscal year 2019 and 2020 is set at 4,999 and 2,999, respectively.
Gov. Ralph DLG Torres lauded Murkowski and the U.S. Senate for the passage of the measure.
“The passage of this bill is a reflection of the hard work put in by everyone in our community who expressed their concerns and worked collaboratively with my administration. I want to especially thank the senator and her staff for their leadership, friendship, and hard work,” said Torres in a statement. “I have already reached out to the White House and…House chairman for Natural Resources Rob Bishop, to ensure a quick passage of the bill in the House.”
According to Torres’ statement, he previously received assurance from Bishop in February this year ensuring the speedy passage of S.2325 once it reaches the U.S. House.
Torres attended the legislative hearing for S. 2325 in early February. He was accompanied by several members of the Northern Mariana Islands Business Alliance Corp., which is composed of several executives from the NMI private sector.
“The hard work of governor Torres and his administration with the [bicameral, bipartisan working group] along with a mandate from our 20th Legislature, all the island mayors, and the community at large made the [bill’s] passage possible,” said NMBAC chair Alex Sablan, adding that he hopes Bishop will receive the bill within the week and swiftly act on the measure “as he assured during a meeting with [Torres] and Rep. Angel A. Demapan (R-Saipan).”
“I believe the governor has already reached out to [Bishop],” said Demapan in an interview yesterday. “My office would also be reaching out to his office to ask for expeditious passage on this bill.”
“We are at a very critical time in our economy, and we’d like to see that happen,” he said.
“On behalf of the House of Representatives, thank you so much,” said House Speaker Rafael Demapan (R-Saipan), addressing Murkowski. He also expressed his gratitude to the working group, the governor, and others involved. “If and when this [bill] gets [enacted], we still need to work on a permanent [solution to the issue],” he said.
“This is not the end of the issue…Our employers would have to be more proactive in making sure we continue hiring U.S. citizens to address the current and future needs of labor here in the Commonwealth,” he said, adding that more training should be offered in order to add more qualified workers into the workforce.
In a statement, the Saipan Chamber of Commerce said five members of their board of directors travelled to Washington, D.C. for the legislative hearing in support of S. 2325.
“While there is still much work to accomplish before this bill can become law, we are grateful for this forward motion. The passage of the bill in the Senate is a positive step, and we are hopeful for continued support as the bill is considered by the U.S. House of Representatives and for the final signature to make the bill a law. The SCC greatly appreciates the influence and support of the many individuals and businesses that took part in this effort to support industry and strengthen our economy,” the statement said.