Intervention by Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) in the House/Senate agreement on the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act has kept safe the unlimited access to H visas available to Northern Marianas’ businesses.
The agreement, released on Friday, keeps intact the provision that exempts the Northern Marianas from the cap on the number of H visas for temporary foreign workers that applies elsewhere in the U.S.
In 2014, Sablan included an extension of this Marianas’ exemption for an additional five years in Public Law 113-235.
“Whether through technical error or intentionally, the Senate version of the 2018 NDAA left out the words ‘or to the Commonwealth’ in a provision that addressed the military’s need for labor on Guam,” Sablan explained. “So we had to make sure that when the House and Senate reconciled their respective versions of the annual defense bill, those four words remained in place in existing law.
“And we were successful. The Northern Marianas continues to have unlimited access to H visas.”
H visas are used for temporary and seasonal workers in various categories, including professional occupations, agriculture, or construction.
In Guam, the U.S. has long relied on contractors, who use H-2B visas to hire foreign workers for construction of military projects. Recently, however, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service has been rejecting applications from Guam employers for renewal of these H-2B visa holders.
In response, the 2018 NDAA creates a new subcategory of the H-2B visa that allows for up to 4,000 foreign workers in Guam for services or labor directly associated with the ongoing military buildup.
The workers may also be used by military contractors in the Northern Marianas, if and when the current exemption from the cap on H visas expires in 2019 and, only if the Commonwealth government reaches an agreement with the U.S. military on terms of the buildup in the Northern Marianas.
“I am very grateful to the committee and congressional offices and administration officials that helped me make sure that there was no change in current law, as it applies to the Northern Marianas,” Sablan said.
“Given the volume and complexity of legislation moving through Congress, having an established network of people who are alert to issues of concern to me and my constituents and who are willing and able to work with me on those issues, is invaluable.” (PR)