Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC is expecting close to 200 workers from the Republic of China (Chinese-Taipei or Taiwan) as part of its continuing efforts to bring in skilled laborers that would complete their mega casino-hotel project. Construction of the multimillion-dollar casino-resort became erratic due to worker-related issues and natural disasters.
Super Typhoon Yutu struck Saipan in late October last year that caused one of the boom cranes used at the construction site to tilt that became a safety concern for other businesses around the area, while a decision made by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services also contributed to their problems.
IPI was forced to lay off and send more than 300 Filipino H-2B construction workers back to the Philippines after USCIS removed the country from a list of nations eligible for the said visa program. Their decision came out in late January and all Filipino H-2B workers had to use up the validity of their respective visas.
IPI vice president for construction Eric Poon, in yesterday’s Commonwealth Casino Commission meeting at the Commonwealth Development Authority conference room in San Jose, said that there are 253 skilled laborers that are currently working at the construction site—composed of 216 H-2B workers and 37 from their subcontractors—not including 15 IPI construction management staff.
There are 37 workers from their subcontractors with 20 coming from manpower company Fritz Pacific while 11 are from USA Fanter. There are also six technicians from the Czech Republic working on the installation of the two Dragon Chandelier, one of which is expected to be completed this April 15 while work on the second will start immediately the following day.
CCC chair Juan Sablan asked how many workers they would need to meet the Feb. 28, 2021 deadline based on amendment number six of the Casino License Agreement, Poon answered they would need the same number of skilled laborers during the initial stages of the construction project.
“At least we need over 1,000 people to meet the schedule. Right now, we’re far below [the number of workers] on what we’re expecting to see at the job site right now,” said Poon.
He said that workforce issues slowed down the progress of their construction. “We are looking at the critical path, based on the original schedule. So, we’re looking at that right now. How are we going to make up with the time that we lost? As of today, 253, we cannot meet our deadline based on what we have now.
That’s why, Poon added, the expected arrival of workers from Taiwan would be a welcome relief. “But, at the same time, IPI is employing H-2B workers from Taiwan which approximately we’re looking at between 100 and 200 workers coming to Saipan sometime in April. Hopefully, we’re going to add 200; doubling [the number] that we have now.”
He said that IPI has also applied for 11 trades for 1,500 workers under the 2019 H-2B cap. “So far, eight trades have been approved by the U.S. [Department of Labor] but we’re still waiting for three that are pending [approval].
Poon added that the process of getting approvals must first come from the U.S. DoL before they submit the application to USCIS. “That’s the process we’ve been working with the government. Recruitment, it really depends on the government’s approval process.”
“[The process is] one department after another. It will take some time to get to the whole process to get the approval. And then we will do the next step to the other depts, I wish I could have a date or month to report to everyone but I really don’t have.”
Thailand, Korea, and Mongolia are some of the other countries that they are looking at to hire more skilled laborers. “We have a team ready to go to Thailand to do interviews with all the candidates. The past few weeks we’ve been looking at all the [candidates] from different agencies from Taiwan, Thailand, and other countries.”
“So, very soon we’re going to have an interview in Thailand with our staff. Hopefully, we can execute and hire an X amount of workers to come over here. They will be part of IPI staff.”