‘We don’t want to return to Dark Ages’


Gloria Cavanagh clearly remembers the early years of this decade. She calls it “The Dark Ages.”

That was the time when the CNMI economy was virtually at a standstill—almost no new businesses, almost no new constructions.

“We don’t want to revert back to the Dark Ages,” Cavanagh now says.

She said this in response to news yesterday that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services slashed 3,000 slots from the total number of foreign workers the CNMI is allowed to hire in fiscal year 2018.

“We do not want to lose what we now know of the CNMI in the past four years as a growing economy,” she said. That includes people having money in their pockets, more spending power, and a 28.6-percent increase in the CNMI’s gross domestic product in 2016.

Cavanagh, who chairs the Hotel Association of the Northern Marianas Islands, said the reduction of 3,000 “is a huge number and if there is a shrinkage of the labor force, there’s going to be a shrinkage of the economy.”

She pointed out that the CNMI may not need any more workers since businesses will eventually close down.

USCIS published last night in the Federal Register that the FY 2018 CW-1 numerical cap is 9,998—3,000 less than the previous fiscal year’s 12,998.

“This huge decrease is an obvious indication that no one is listening and that the federal government doesn’t really understand.

“We need to get this point across and we need to work as a community and help our leaders—the administration and the representative office—and say ‘we cannot run this way,’” Cavanagh added.

She said that everyone will feel the domino effect because everything on island is connected. “This is a scary situation,” she said. “This is a concern islandwide, not just the hotels but we are talking about tour agents, guides, and all the ancillary businesses that support the tourism market. For the HANMI, we have less than 800 CW-1 total but all of the businesses that support our market are in trouble.

She pointed out that there are areas within Micronesia that are a lot more business-friendly, where businesses can move to.

“They can go and do their business remotely because they don’t have employees to rely on here,” she added.

Cavanagh insists that CNMI businesses have been doing their part to hire locally, citing the many forays to recruit in Micronesia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. mainland.

“To actually say it’s feasible to get somebody from the mainland, uproot their family, and stay here for any amount of time is impossible and to think we can depend on that is unrealistic,” she said.

“We’ve had job fairs and aggressive recruitment. Imperial Pacific International, Ltd. spent millions of dollars to recruit and, within months, they were down to 30 percent and the reality is not all businesses can really afford that,” Cavanagh added.

According to her, the result of the CW-1 reduction is ultimately going to affect the indigenous people.

“Who carries this burden? The government does and our U.S. representative wholly because that’s what he is here to do. He is supposed to protect us from these disasters and do as much as he can to work with local government and businesses in order to make sure that the CNMI is on the right track.

“Big and small businesses will definitely be affected but, ultimately, it’s going to come down to the local people. The local people are the ones that are going to suffer because when businesses move off-island or close down, this will displace people,” she added.

Cavangah said the urgency to get a bill to address the CNMI’s need for workers passed in Congress is more emphatic now.

“The sense of urgency to pass a bill regarding foreign workforce is stronger now than it was yesterday when we didn’t know what the cap is going to be. I know it is election year next year [but] it is time to set aside agendas as we all need to work together,” she 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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