The House of Representatives on Tuesday passed a resolution that “supports the move to respectfully request a five-year extension of the transitional period of the CNMI-Only Investor (E-2C) visa program beyond Dec. 31, 2014, with ample time for transition.”
House Resolution 18-66 is authored by Rep. Anthony Sablan (Ind-Saipan) but was adopted by the committee of the whole during last week’s House session.
According to HR 18-66, an “additional transition period of five years is absolutely necessary to prevent a collapse of the CNMI economy,” quoting the Saipan Chamber of Commerce.
It also said the extension of the E-2C visa would come in handy as the Commonwealth’s tourism arrivals have increased and hotel occupancy rates reached 91 percent as of January 2013, the highest since 1997.
“The government and private sector considers that losing foreign, long-term investors will hamper the rise of our tourism-based economy in a major way; and a grant of a five-year extension would not subvert the goal of U.S. Public Law 110-229,” added the resolution.
U.S. PL 110-229 is the Consolidated Natural Resources Act that gave a five-year transition period not only for long-term foreign investors in the CNMI but long-term nonresident workers as well via the CNMI workers program or CW program.
Sablan said extending the E-2C program is of the utmost importance because the CNMI currently has more than 260 such investors, which are the backbone of the islands’ economy.
“I don’t think anybody would deny that failure to extend that E-2C investor visa would have an economic impact on our economy. I always believed that the backbone of our economy is the small- and medium-sized businesses. These are the people who put money in their operations and hire. They do their part in paying taxes and they have a positive impact on the economy. They were told that by the end of the year they could no longer remain here. I don’t want to imagine the consequences.”
The former Division of Immigration director said it would only be right for Congress to extend the E-2C program like what the Department of Homeland Security did in extending the CW program.
“Basically we have a situation where we have uncertainty with regards to people doing business. The U.S. government already did the right action by extending the CW transition period. I think we need to do the same for those operating businesses here. I can’t imagine the economic impact. Roughly we’re looking at around 200-some. The intent here is to address and take care of a visa status situation here so they could stay here and operate a business legally.”
Sablan said copies of HR 18-66 would be given to U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, U.S. Department of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, Gov. Eloy S. Inos, Senate President Ralph DLG. Torres (R-Saipan), and Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP).
“What we’re going to do is make a personal request to the Speaker [Joseph P. Deleon Guerrero] to prepare certified copies of the resolution so we can make them available directly to the office of Kilili and the other individuals on the list, including Congress. We want this out by tomorrow because we really don’t have much time,” he said.
Sablan is happy that all his colleagues in the House adopted the resolution.
“I’m glad that the members want to introduce that as a committee of the whole so it has the backing of everybody in trying to convey the urgency of the matter. We’re barely a month away from the end of the year so I think it’s important that we take this step and other steps to take this particular issue to the attention of the federal authorities.”