‘CW bill up next week’


After sailing through the U.S. Senate last week on a majority vote, S. 2325, or the Northern Marianas U.S. Workforce Act bill, is set to be on deck when the U.S. House of Representatives goes into session next week.

Delegate Gregorio Killili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) shared this with business leaders at the Saipan Chamber of Commerce meeting yesterday at the Hibiscus Hall of Fiesta Resort & Spa Saipan in Garapan.

“The [U.S.] Senate passed the bill last Monday by unanimous consent. It was transmitted to the House on Tuesday and it has been held ‘at the desk’ in the House, which means it can be acted on at anytime,” he said.

“Last Friday, I spoke to a majority leadership member and he assured me that the House will act on the U.S. Workforce Act after we return to Washington, [D.C.] next week. Like Sen. Lisa Murskowski (R-AK), I am confident that the President will sign the bill when he receives it,” he added.

Sablan said that one of the important features of the bill sets the CNMI-Only Transitional Worker cap for fiscal year 2019 at 13,000.

“I believe 13,000 should be enough to keep our economy going, particularly because the movers behind the large construction projects are finally starting to understand how to get H2-B visas and not use up the CW permits that are so precious to so many of your businesses. We are fortunate to have 13,000 permits as the recent number for the CW program,” he added.

The other features of the Northern Marianas U.S. Workforce Act includes:

Extending the transition period to 2029, which means more jobs to CW program and possibility of investors through the E2-C investor visa;

Extending the national cap for H visas so the CNMI can have as many construction workers as needed;

Extending the continuing bar on asylum, which makes the parole system for Chinese tourism possible. Sablan cautioned, however, that a move by the Trump administration to kill the parole program for CNMI tourism is “a very real possibility”;

Extending a specific numerical winding down of the CW program. For 2019, the CNMI will have 13,000 CW permits. In 2024, that will be down to 10,500 CW permits, which is still higher than this year;

The bill carries new protection for local workers in competition from cheaper foreign labor;

For businesses, there are new protection from the companies that scoop up hundreds of CW permits and then not use them;

As for long-term CW worker or legacy workers, businesses don’t have to worry about yearly renewals with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services because, unlike regular CW workers, legacy workers don’t have to go home every two years as they can stay at least until 2029.

Sablan also gave a glimpse of the process that took place to put together the Northern Mariana U.S. Workforce Act, which he described as filled with “nail-biter moments.”

“…We started with no extension and no more CW workers after 2019. Chairman Murkowski insisted of taking away the authority of the Secretary of Labor to extend the CW program beyond 2019. The extension that passed in 2014 included the bar to claims of asylum, which made parole-based tourism with China possible. In terms of taking away the ability of the Secretary of Labor to extend the CW program past 2019, it was a tough choice but I chose five more years of China and Russian tourism,” he said.

According to Sablan, another critically important decision was to request the U.S. Government Accountability Office to report on foreign labor in the Marianas.

“In 2016, Sen. Murkowski, Sen. Ron Caldwell, and I jointly asked the GAO to stretch the scope of its regular report to Congress from minimum wage to include an analysis of how the U.S, immigration law impacted the Commonwealth. The report came out in May 2017 and it concluded that, without foreign labor, the Marianas economy will shrink by 26-62 percent,” he said.

That report changed some minds, Sablan said, but not about extending the CW program past 2019, adding the report was only enough to convince certain members of Congress that maybe it will be okay to give the Marianas a few more workers in 2017.

“…this is how I got the Northern Marianas Economic Expansion Act passed in Congress and signed into law in August 2017,” he said.

Sablan said there was dissatisfaction about the Northern Marianas Economic Expansion Act that was enacted in 2017, calling it a short-term measure.

“That is not necessarily true because the increase in training local workers to replace foreign workers contained in the Economic Expansion Act continues to this day and that shifted focus from how many foreign workers do you need to how many U.S. workers can we find and train to fill the need of the Marianas economy… Last year, the President signed the Northern Marianas Economic Expansion Act, which raised a number of CW permits and became a precursor to the U.S. Workforce Act,” he added.

Sablan said he empathizes with businesses who have lost CW employees while waiting for the bill’s passage.

“I know…there may be some of you who may have applications in the fiscal year 2019 that have been returned or rejected. Once the U.S. Workforce Act is signed into law, you will have an opportunity to re-apply and, instead of 4,999 CW permits—the number that the past administration decided on—there will be 13,000 permits for next year, the number that Congress decided on,” he said.

“It’s a good bill but it’s not a law yet. So last Monday I spent answering calls from Senate Democrats as they all wanted to know if I support this bill. I said, yes, and they agreed to support it, so getting the bill passed next week is the one that I will be working on,” he said.

Bea Cabrera | Correspondent
Bea Cabrera, who holds a law degree, also has a bachelor's degree in mass communications. She has been exposed to multiple aspects of mass media, doing sales, marketing, copywriting, and photography.

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