CNMI SEDC CLARIFIES:
CNMI Strategic Economic Development Council chair Bob Jones clarified yesterday that the council’s support of moving workers to the H-visa class was specific to construction workers, explaining that the H2 visa class would not take care of all the CNMI’s workers needs when the local contract worker program ends in 2019.
At the same time, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and newly sworn in Department of Public Lands Secretary Marianne Concepcion-Teregeyo reiterated the council’s discussion of controlled or “capped growth,” with Torres saying an economist is needed for these projections and Teregeyo pointing to a CNMI-wide land use plan in the works that would “balance” development with community needs.
Jones, in a phone call, explained that H-2 visa could not be used “for all categories” of workers. For other jobs, the CNMI could find workers locally, but the contract worker program is going to be called for technical people in accounting or information technology.
“This H2 visa is not going to take care of the 2019 expiration of CW workers,” Jones said.
“…[The governor] and all of us realize we can’t eliminate the CW program altogether,” Jones said.
Come 2019, Jones and Torres believe the CNMI is going need a “better alternative” than the H2 category, but that the larger task remains of finding the proper category for employees to operate all the new tourist industry facilities that are being developed currently.
The “first phase” to sustain workers in the CNMI, Jones said, “is to eliminate CW construction workers and replace them with H-2” class workers. The contract worker visa class could be used for operations, but the H-visa could be used “for all these new development,” he said.
Torres, for his part, addressed questions on whether the CNMI’s infrastructure could handle all the investment coming in.
“We obviously need growth. There is no dispute about that,” Torres told reporters yesterday. “It’s how fast do we want growth and what point do we say we have enough.”
Torres said it is in the works to have an economist on board to “do our projections as we move forward.” “Currently, we have a shortage of rooms, we know that. For the new investments that are coming in, we want to encourage those investments. At the same time, we are waiting and seeing at what level do we want to cap those investments.
Torres also continued to encourage the business community to avail of the H-1 visa and preserve the contract worker visa “for those that are critical.”
Referring to the cap on contract workers allowed in the NMI, Torres said the CNMI needs a “maximum the usage of those numbers of CW that we have.”
Torres also acknowledged that another issue was that the CNMI was not really a “hop, skip, and jump” from Asia as it takes two or three hours and a long Customs line for incoming tourist.
This was one of the issues he has talked with the local ports authority about, he said, as it plays into the airport’s new master plan and expansion.
“That is one area that we would like to expedite,” Torres said, “to expand and make the waiting time comparable with U.S. and other major destinations.”
Teregeyo, for her part, said the land use plan should be able to balance out the need for developments and the needs of the community, and its Northern Marianas Descent as it relates to homesteads. “Once we get that land use plan—together with conservation areas, recreation areas—that is going to be our guideline for where we allow permits for common areas like” fishing bases or community areas.
A contract was supposed to be signed off on recently but the vendor selected by procurement and her predecessor asked to step back to August, or retract their proposal.
“At the moment, I’ve put into the budget office DPL’s budget of $1 million for the land use plan,” Teregeyo said, explaining that there was a great disparity between the bid selected that the other two bids.
“So it is a matter of seeing if we can fund for the other two and cancel it, or continue through and wait until August,” she said.