‘CW extension already decided’

3 bills to end program in 2019 Immigration reform eyed within 5 years

U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez has already decided on the request to extend the program that allows the CNMI’s continued direct access to some 10,000 foreign workers beyond 2014 so it’s only a matter of time to make that decision public, Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) said yesterday. Whether any such extension will be for five years or less is anyone’s guess but three pending bills in Congress would extend the CW program up to 2019 and there won’t be any further extensions.

A national immigration reform is expected before the proposed end of the CW program in five years under S. 1237, H.R. 2200, and H.R. 4296.

“After Dec. 31, 2019, there won’t be any more CW program under these bills,” Sablan said in an interview at his office in Susupe yesterday.

Current law allows determination whether an extension of the transition period is needed.

President Barack Obama could also use his executive authority over immigration and other issues between now and 2019.

Both S. 1237 and H.R. 2200 are omnibus territorial bills, while H.R. 4296 is a standalone bill.

The U.S. House Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs has already set an April 29 hearing on Sablan’s H.R. 4296.

The bill, as currently worded, extends the transitional CW program by five years, up to Dec. 31, 2019.

Without such an extension, the program will end after Dec. 31, 2014, and this means the CNMI will be forced to send home some 10,000 skilled and professional foreign workers.

This comes at a time when the U.S. worker pool in the Commonwealth is too small to fill those jobs that will be vacated.

Sablan said H.R. 4296 will be amended to also extend the E2C investor visa program up to 2019, as well as extend the CNMI’s exemption from receiving asylum applications beyond Jan. 1, 2015.

Once the amendments are done, H.R. 4296 will have most of the CNMI-specific provisions contained in H.R. 2200 and S. 1237, which is now up for a U.S. Senate floor vote.

But while S. 1237 makes its way to a U.S. Senate floor vote, four senators have already voiced out opposition to the Guam war claims and the waiver of up to $500,000 in local matching fund requirements for non-competitive grants to territories.

The U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee issued last week its 42-page report on S. 1237 or the Omnibus Territories Act, with amendments. For example, the removal of a CNMI provision on submerged lands because it already became law under a separate bill.

The companion legislation in the House of Representatives, H.R. 2200, meanwhile, has yet to have a hearing date since 2013.

Meanwhile, Sablan said the U.S. Labor secretary won’t wait for the 11th hour before making his decision on the CW extension public. The Labor secretary has a July 4 deadline to make and announce a decision.

By that time, there’s only five months left before the Dec. 31, 2014 end of the CW program.

Moreover, even if Perez extends the CW program by five years, the E2C investor visa program would still end after 2014 and the asylum application exemption would still be lifted after Jan. 1, 2015 unless they are extended through legislation, which is exactly what S. 1237, H.R. 2200 and H.R. 4296 intend to do.

Sablan said S. 1237 also allows military contractors to use H visa workers for buildup construction, if necessary. Guam and Tinian will be seeing construction projects as a result of the military buildup in the region.

Haidee V. Eugenio | Reporter
Haidee V. Eugenio has covered politics, immigration, business and a host of other news beats as a longtime journalist in the CNMI, and is a recipient of professional awards and commendations, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s environmental achievement award for her environmental reporting. She is a graduate of the University of the Philippines Diliman.

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