WASHINGTON, D.C.—Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) has blocked a Trump administration move to charge a new fee for Commonwealth-Only Transitional Worker permits.
Working behind the scenes over the last several weeks, as the House and Senate negotiated the fiscal year 2019 appropriation for the U.S. Department of Labor, Sablan argued against adding another cost for Marianas businesses.
“This could have been as much as $700 extra for each CW permit,” Sablan said. “The Trump administration wanted full cost recovery for the temporary labor certification now required by the U.S. Workforce Act. They pegged the cost at $9 million, to be split among the 12,500 CW permits the U.S. Workforce Act provides next year.
“That is a significant, additional cost I did not want our businesses to have to pay. So, I did everything I could to block it—and I succeeded.”
The U.S. Workforce Act, Public Law 115-218, requires every employer who wants to apply for a CW permit to first obtain a temporary labor certification from the U.S. Department of Labor. The agency must certify that no U.S. worker is able and available for the job the CW worker will fill.
“The labor certification is one of many ways the U.S. Workforce Act protects our local workers from unfair competition from cheaper foreign labor,” Sablan explained. “It is the same certification employers must get, if they want to apply for H-2B visas for temporary workers. But there is no charge for the H-2B foreign labor certification.
“I do not know why Republicans decided to target Marianas businesses like this. Fortunately, I stopped them.”
The Labor Department was one of the federal agencies asked for input by the congressional working group that negotiated the U.S. Workforce Act. “We met on March 5, three days before Sen. Murkowski’s committee marked up the bill,” Sablan recalled. “Labor had an opportunity at that meeting to ask for authority to charge a fee and they did not.
“Of course, I would have said no to the fee in the working group, too,” Sablan added.
“In the working group, I had already whittled a proposed $150 anti-fraud fee down to $50 to protect our local businesses. They can only absorb so much at one time.”
The Trump Labor Department has been pressing for authority to charge the new fee over the last several weeks, as the House and Senate negotiated appropriations for the Labor Department for fiscal year 2019.
“When the Congressional Budget Office reported the costs associated with the U.S. Workforce Act, as they generally have to do when a bill is passed, there was no new cost for the Labor Department,” said Sablan. “In fact, because of the bar on claims of asylum, CBO reported that the Workforce Act saves the federal government money.
“Nevertheless, it is important that Labor has what it needs to implement the U.S. Workforce Act,” Sablan said. “We do not want any delays in getting temporary labor certifications to businesses, when they start applying next year.
“What I recommended—and what is now included in Section 118 of the appropriation—is for the Labor Department to take unobligated funds from another account, about $8.25 million. That should give them what they need to process the new labor certifications without costing Marianas businesses.”
The conference report on the combined Department of Defense and Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Act, 2019 and Continuing Appropriations Act, 2019, H.R. 6157, was filed last Friday. The Senate approved the bill on Tuesday and the House is expected to pass it next week. The President has until Oct. 1 to sign the bill into law. (PR)