Despite the CNMI-Only Transitional Worker or CW-1 visa classification facing an uncertain future, there are a total of 22 projects in development in the Commonwealth including six new hotels on Saipan and two casino resorts on Tinian, based on data obtained by the United States Government Accountability Office.
GAO representatives visited Saipan in December last year to gather data and other information through fieldwork and interviews from employers, employees, and government officials. CNMI’s immigration and minimum wage issues were the basis of the research requested by the U.S. Congress.
“Amid the uncertainty of the future availability of foreign labor, the CNMI government has granted zoning permits to planned projects that will require thousands of additional workers,” said the GAO report.
“Twenty-two development projects, including six new hotels or casinos on Saipan and two new hotels or casinos on Tinian, are planned for construction or renovation by 2019,” it added.
The CNMI Bureau of Environmental and Coastal Quality, according to the report, estimated that more than 8,000 workers would be needed to support the operations of the new hotels and casinos once the projects are completed.
“According to data [BECQ] provided, most of this planned labor demand is for development on the island of Tinian, where two businesses plan to build casino resorts, with an estimated labor demand of 6,359 workers for operations—more than twice the island’s population in 2016,” said GAO’s report.
The Tinian Dynasty & Casino once operated in the CNMI’s Second Senatorial District but it closed after being slapped a $75-million fine by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network on June 3, 2015 on violations of the Bank Secrecy Act of 1970.
FinCEN fined Tinian Dynasty after the casino resort failed to develop and implement an anti-money laundering program. FinCEN found out Tinian Dynasty transacted with guests that have large amounts of cash with the casino failing to declare or report the transactions as required by the Bank Secrecy Act.
Federal Labor’s Wage and Hour Division also found out that Tinian Dynasty did not pay their employees the minimum wage and overtime
The GAO report said one of the two Tinian investors offers overseas immigration services, including assistance in obtaining work and investment-based immigration to the U.S. mainland.
“We observed a billboard advertisement on Tinian with Chinese writing indicating that by investing in a new development in Tinian, an investor’s family members would all get American green cards,” the GAO report said.
“This resort development, whose plans estimate a labor force of 859, has undertaken site preparation while the other larger resort project, whose plans estimate a labor force of 5,500, had not initiated construction as of December 2016.”
GAO also sited the CNMI lacking a planning agency or a process that would ensure planned projects are within their available workforce.
Senate President Arnold I. Palacios (R-Saipan) has introduced Senate Bill 20-2 that would establish the Office of Planning Development under the Governor’s Office. The Senate has passed the bill, which would help manage the rapid economic growth the CNMI is currently experiencing.