Following the initial collection of data in December for CW-1 visa non-renewals, Labor Secretary Vicky Benavente noted that businesses that have responded to the survey so far fit into 22 different industries.
Benavente reiterated that data on U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services non-renewals, which have been either misclassified or put into general occupational categories, is currently being compiled and mitigated.
“Our primary focus is getting information from the businesses who have received denials for their CW permit applications. At this time, the data shows a total of 238 businesses that DOL was able to survey that fit into 22 different industries,” Benavente said.
The 22 different industries are air carriers, car rentals, cleaning services, consulting services, farming, health care, house rental, poker arcades, restaurants, salons, tour services, auto shops, catering, construction, dive shop operators, gas stations, hotel, manpower, help supply, security, power plant, retail, snack mobile, and transmitting facilities operation.
“Drawing from this data sample, we can see a total of 1,581 U.S. qualified workers; 1,693 CW workers, 427 CW-1 petitions that have been denied by USCIS; and 313 CW-1 petitions that are currently pending at USCIS. Almost all employers who replied to the survey were able to disclose their workforce data. However, some fields of the survey were not readily available at the time of the survey. It was found that, in some cases, employers would have information on CW-1 petitions that were denied but not how many U.S. qualified workers were currently employed. The positions and the quantity of positions being denied by USCIS were also not available by the employer. At the same time, an approximate number and generalization of job classifications were given,” Benavente noted.
She added that aside from the quantitative data retrieved from businesses, comments were also drawn from the survey.
“Many businesses shared similar concerns and action plans on how to mitigate the involuntary adjustment to their workforce. The collective testimonies of the employers fall into a wide spectrum of extenuating responses. Comments ranged from making recruiting adjustments to even closing down their business. Mitigation such as downsizing operations and services or cancelling expansion were also stated. Many employers shared their hardships in labor recruitment and the deprivation of a substantial labor pool to that of the U.S which the CNMI must abide by the instilled federal labor laws,” she said.
Gil San Nicolas, director of Enforcement, said that while many businesses shared the same plight with plans of alleviating labor shortfalls, businesses still had very distinct circumstances in which hiring foreign labor was needed.
“With the lack of a skilled labor pool specialized in a specific vocation and lack of training facilities within the Northern Marianas, the difficulty of recruiting one employee from abroad to relocate to the CNMI poses as an obstacle in hiring. Sacrificing a certain wage and benefits certainly outweighs the option of working in the CNMI,” San Nicolas said.
Benavente revealed that one such instance is an employer in the refrigeration business unable to keep his foreign workers.
“This employer has been attempting for many years to recruit new workers and keep his current employees. He has acquired his skill-set in a span of six years and still has difficulty finding an employee with even the partial set of skills that is needed in his workplace. Many of the potential candidates abroad simply could not afford to relocate to the CNMI and adjust to a different standard of living. These locations range from the mainland U.S. to the surrounding Pacific territories,” she said.
Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, who encouraged the private sector to report their labor data, stated that many employers appreciate the efforts of educational institutions such as the Northern Marianas Trades Institute and Latte Training Academy but that the reduction impact would not be sustainable.
“While the survey is ongoing, current data is illustrating the impact of the drop in workforce, as well as the issues with the permitting process. We are very aware that certain trades have not been established in the CNMI, such as the cosmetology trade. Our private sector must recruit foreign labor to supplement their workforce and are faced with uncertainty when considering business expansion. This is one example of concerns against the CW cuts. Even with the recent passing of H.R. 339—Northern Mariana Islands Economic Expansion Act—CW-1 visas will generally no longer be available to workers who will be performing jobs classified as construction and extraction occupations in the U.S. Department of Labor’s Standard Occupational Classification system. Our economic progress is at a grave risk, which is why I’ve taken all necessary steps with my discussions with Sen. Lisa Murkowski of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources with the introduction of S. 2325, the Northern Mariana Islands U.S. Workforce Act. I commend our Department of Labor for reaching out to all businesses to collect tangible data on this issue but the wok is not over. I ask our private sector for their continued assistance and collaboration in filling information gaps so that we can address the future of our economy and our community,” Torres said.
The survey is an ongoing project within the CNMI CW Transition Impact Study. The survey is being conducted through the Department of Labor Employment Services and will be instrumental to the study of CNMI businesses and workforce data.
For more information call 664-3190, 322-0996, 322-9935 or email Elaine Rosario at firstname.lastname@example.org. (PR)