House Speaker Joseph Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan) is throwing his support behind a labor task force that the government has created to tackle a looming manpower shortage in the CNMI.
The lawmaker brought up the labor issue during the Legislature’s “leadership meeting” with Gov. Eloy S. Inos last week.
He said the talks focused on the closure of the CW program in 2019, which is “something to put on the table” for lawmakers to look into.
“We cannot change our immigration law, it is a federal law. Our concerns need to be brought to the feds and also to Congress,” Guerrero said. “Hopefully, Congress sees this and amends the law.”
He said the government’s task force on manpower will be headed by the CNMI Department of Labor as well as other agencies.
The task force will be training resident workers to fill in an anticipated shortage once the CW program is over.
However, even if all resident workers do take on the available jobs, the CNMI will still have a shortage of about 11,000 workers, Guerrero said.
He said recent talks with members of the Hotel Association of the Northern Marian Islands focused on the labor shortage, particularly jobs in the hospitality industry.
The Saipan Chamber of Commerce earlier voiced the same concern regarding a labor shortage.
Chamber president Alex Sablan earlier said there are approximately 11,400 foreign workers now in the Commonwealth.
“Approximately 11,400 foreign workers is what we have today in the CNMI but if all developers are successful in constructing their rooms, we will need 17,000 foreign workers,” Sablan said.
According to Sablan, based on recent numbers declared by developers that are actively seeking hotel constructions, the number of hotel rooms could swell to 10,000.
Best Sunshine International, Ltd. alone is projecting some 4,000 rooms.
The problem becomes apparent, as manpower needed for these hotel developments far exceeds 11,000. “And these developments [10,000 rooms] are on Saipan only,” Sablan said.
There are also developments ongoing on nearby Tinian and Rota.
Sablan further said the CNMI currently has a 13,399 quota for the CW1 visa. The number will not increase, but will eventually reach zero, he said, adding that the local population cannot sustain the looming deficit.
Sablan said the math “does not add up” anymore, as there are only a few thousand CW1 visas available, compared to the projected need of 17,000.