There are only 262 slots left in the CNMI-Only Transitional Worker Nonimmigrant Visa program or CW-1 cap for fiscal year 2017, based on information on the website of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Last month, USCIS reduced by one the fiscal year 2017 cap from 12,999 to 12,998.
USCIS has already approved 6,275 CW-1 applications while another 6,461 are still pending or waiting for approval, for a total of 12,736. The CW-1 slots have been filled up fast and this could become a problem for some businesses in the CNMI that rely on foreign workers for their daily operations.
The administration of Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and CNMI Delegate Gregorio Kilili Sablan (Ind-MP), along with leaders from the private sector—the Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Saipan Chamber of Commerce, and the Society of Human Resources-CNMI Chapter—have been working together in trying to ask the U.S. Congress to find a solution to the Commonwealth’s labor issues.
Torres and Chamber secretary Alex Sablan even testified in an oversight hearing by the House Committee on Natural Resources chaired by Rob Bishop (R-Utah 1st District). The hearing wants to review the economic impact of the CW-1 program that would end in 2019.
Delegate Sablan has also introduced H.R. 5888, which proposes to increase the cap from 12,998 to 18,000 and extend the CW-1 program for another 10 years or until 2029. His legislation, however, would not be acted on until next year since the U.S. lawmakers are acting in a lame duck Congress with the Presidential election just three weeks away.
HANMI chair Gloria Cavanagh said although they are expecting the cap to be filled they were surprised the cap was filled up that fast. “The only thing surprising about it is being so close to reaching the [fiscal year] 2017 CW-1 cap is that it has come one month sooner that what we already expected.”
Cavanagh, however, said they remain hopeful that something could be done to ease the impact of the CW-1 cap on the CNMI economy. “I have to remain hopeful that things in D.C. can still be done. Unfortunately things cannot happen until after the election.”
“In the business community, we have to rally behind [Delegate Sablan] and offer him support. Additionally, we must not sit idly by and accept this as ‘done.’ We must do all we can as an alliance to reverse the damage that is forthcoming.”
Taking advantage of the local workforce, U.S. citizens and local residents, and businesses to transition their workers to other U.S.-applicable work visas are the aims of the CW-1 program.
Torres, who attended a meeting by the Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Advisory Committee in Las Vegas, said in this month’s Chamber meeting that the CNMI faces an uncertain future after CW-1 program ends on Dec. 31, 2019.
The CW-1 program would have supposedly ended in 2014, a five-year period only, but got extended to 2019. The CNMI, however, would be facing workforce shortage with the CW program about to expire in two years while developments and other investment coming in.