The Northern Marianas Business Alliance Corp. is hopeful that legislation to extend the CNMI-Only Transitional Worker program will be adopted by U.S Congress in the second quarter of this year.
During the weekly Rotary Club of Saipan meeting at the Hyatt Regency Saipan’s Giovanni restaurant yesterday, NMBAC chair Alex Sablan updated the Rotary Club members on the actions currently being made to resolve the CW-1 transitional worker only visa crisis.
Sablan said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and her committee are expected to drop legislation that extends the CW-1 program in the Commonwealth.
“We’re basically waiting for a bill to be dropped by Senator Murkowski’s committee… once that is done, we are hopeful that we can take that bill and continue our efforts,” he said.
Sablan said that although NMBAC is assured that the legislation will feature an extension to the visa program, they are unsure if they will be given the 10 years they requested.
“Specific legislation that we think will come from her office will be an extension, to what number that is, we still don’t know,” he said.
NMBAC speculates that the bill will maintain the 12,998 slots that the CNMI was granted in the last fiscal year in order to sustain the CNMI’s economy.
“We’re asking for the 10 years and also a CW number and again we do not know what that number is, we think its going to be somewhere around the 12,998 that we had the previous fiscal year and we believe that that would maintain the momentum we have now in our economy,” he said.
Sablan said the deadline for the legislation to be submitted is August because the next fiscal year will welcome a 5,000-slot cut to the 9,998 slots that the CNMI is currently running on and if a resolution is not made before then, it would completely devastate the economy’s momentum.
“Without the (CW) workforce complementing the U.S. citizen workers, we won’t be able to sustain the economy we have today,” he said.
Sablan said that the bill can only go as far as maintaining the economy right now. He said if the goal is to further grow the economy, then the only choice is to hire workers from the mainland or apply for alternative visas, which is not ideal for the smaller businesses in the Commonwealth.
“If we want to grow the economy any further, we are going to have to either recruit from the mainland and or get alternative visas,” said Sablan.
According to the NMBAC chair, they are now just awaiting Murkowski’s bill and the companion bill from Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan’s (Ind-MP) before they take further action on the issue.
“Senator Murkowski is channeling the legislation in her committee, the Senate Energy, and the Natural Resources Committee when that is dropped, a companion bill is going to be dropped by our delegate, (Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan) as he mentioned to us and the effort to get that past both houses of congress…that will be the effort we need to proceed with our efforts,” said Sablan.
Sablan said that once that is done, NMBAC would proceed with their efforts.
“…Would be to go back to Washington, D.C. through hearings or more door knocking sessions to educate members of congress about what is happening on the ground,” he said.
While waiting for the bills to drop, NMBAC will also be working on gathering data to support their cause.
“We are hopeful that we can garner some statistical data about what’s happening now with the reduction of 3,000. It is impacting this economy and we need to gather the data that will express what that impact is today and ultimately what the next round of reductions, if they do come, will do to decimate the overall economy, and it will decimate it,” said Sablan.
Sablan is hopeful that NMBAC will be back at Washington, D.C during the year’s first quarter.