Considers a ‘new visa category’
Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) remains confident that an extension would be secured for the CW-1 program, which is set to end in 2019.
The tricky part is how to “write this legislation where even if we don’t get a high number of CW-1s, we would continue to have a pool of workers in the Marianas,” Sablan said in a news briefing yesterday.
The CW-1 program, or the CNMI Transitional Worker program, allows the CNMI to hire foreign workers; it has been in place since 2009. It was set to expire in 2014 but was extended to Dec. 31, 2019. As of publication, U.S. Congress has yet to allow extensions for the CW-1 program but Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and Sablan both noted that an extension proposal is in the works.
Sablan added that in order to continue providing the workforce necessary for the growing economy and to “do some justice” to some “long-term guest workers,” a new visa category could be created.
“[The new visa category] would be for those individuals who have been here for a long period of time,” said Sablan, adding that the new category could be something that need not be renewed annually, unlike the CW-1 visa.
“…Move [the longtime workers] into this new category where their visas have to be approved every three years rather than every year and probably allow their dependents to be able to work,” he said, also noting that the new visa category would not be counted as CW-1, therefore not contributing to the numerical limit the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services sets every fiscal year.
Though nothing is final yet, Sablan noted that discussions are occurring with a “working group,” which includes Torres’ office, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), as well as other bicameral and bipartisan members of Congress.
“We are hoping to get this done by 2018 but if necessary, 2019, but I am confident that we can get this done,” said Sablan.
USCIS has yet to release a numerical limit on CW-1 visas for fiscal year 2018. It is required by law to set a limit every fiscal year.
A previous USCIS statement said the Federal Register notice has yet to be signed and released, causing the delay in the agency releasing the numerical limits.
According to an October 2017 Government Accountability Office report, the CNMI heavily depends on foreign labor. It indicated that the CNMI’s ability to repay its debts may be jeopardized by future labor shortages.
In response to the GAO report, Torres said that although the economy is doing well, there is still a “vast need for improvement.”