‘Expect less than 18,000 CW slots’

According to Alex Sablan, U.S. Congress is “seriously considering” several provisions proposed for the extension of the CW-1 program but the 18,000 ceiling should not be expected.

Sablan, who chairs the Northern Marianas Business Alliance Corp., told Saipan Tribune in an interview yesterday, that Congress is seriously giving some thought to the corporation’s proposal to extend the CNMI-Only Transitional Worker program past its 2019 deadline, among many others.

He noted, though, that while key members of Congress and ranking White House officials recognize the need for an extension, the 18,000-slot ceiling pursued by the NMBAC with blessings from the Torres administration could not be expected in the extension.

“We have all agreed that the extension was one of them. The number of the CW-1 workers was a second one,” said Sablan after being asked about the provisions that Congress is considering.

“It was clearly [expressed] that the 18,000 is probably not the number that we are going to get, but we assume it is somewhere between the number we had,” he said, adding that the number could be between 12,998 and, hopefully, 18,000. The law that created the CW program mandates bringing down that number to zero by 2019.

The NMBAC’s proposed bill has a provision that includes a prevailing wage for CW-1 visa holders. The prevailing wage is the average wage paid to employees in similar jobs. This means that there would be parity between CW-1 visa holders that are within the same job description.

“The prevailing wage was another provision that was asked. They [agreed] that a prevailing wage should be instituted because it is a policy of every other U.S. visa,” he said, adding that employment visas usually have a prevailing wage attachment.

“This is another one of those visas that should have a prevailing wage attached,” said Sablan, adding that NMBAC believes it would provide parity in the wages in the CNMI, based on a CNMI study.

The final provision that Congress is looking into is that of the sharing of information with the CNMI government.

“They mentioned that it was kind of ridiculous [to make a] Freedom of Information Act request to get information on our CW-1 numbers, so they are agreeable that this should be relaxed and that they should be sharing this data with the CNMI,” said Sablan.

According to him, these four provisions were “being discussed” out of the several others that they proposed during their door-knocking sessions in Washington, D.C. after U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services reduced the number of CW-1 slots by 3,000 for fiscal year 2018 on Nov. 22, 2017.

While only the four were discussed, Sablan said he wishes that the bill’s provision to include the CNMI Department of Labor in the CW-1 process for prioritizing U.S. citizens.

“[This is so that] the employers are not [working around] local laws…to ensure that we are filling U.S. citizen jobs…first and foremost, over and above the foreign national workers,” said Sablan. He added that, as with Guam, which has its own department of labor involved, this would ensure that priority goes to U.S. citizens seeking jobs.

Sablan noted yesterday that the time is of the essence for the bill, as come April 2018, several CW-1 visa would already be affected by the 3,000 cut.

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Erwin Encinares | Reporter
Erwin Charles Tan Encinares holds a bachelor’s degree from the Chiang Kai Shek College and has covered a wide spectrum of assignments for the Saipan Tribune. Encinares is the paper’s political reporter.

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