The following is my personal views and concerns that I feel should be brought to the attention of the business community and to our elected leaders. I sincerely hope that there will be collaborated effort between leaders of the business community and our elected leaders. I am concerned about what will happen to our economy if we do not act forthwith and solve this difficult labor issues facing us today.
For years we have been aware of the eventual phase out of the CW-1 program, but we probably did not consider the serious consequences facing our economy. There have been several extensions granted to the CNMI on the CW phase out. The federal government was hoping that local residents would take on the needed manpower to boost the economic development. The influx of investors especially in the area of the tourism industry is flourishing and will continue to flourish to a point where available local workers are unable to meet the demand. The growth of our economy indispensably requires the importation of nonresident workers. I find the need for more workers still exists today. The only solution is to restrict further growth of our economy. Obviously, that is unrealistic. I have therefore prepared the following points in hopes to truly assess where the deficiency lies, find acceptable balance to continue economic growth, and its need for more workers.
Can we operate within our means?
Over the past decade or so, the CNMI has suffered financially to a point where it is unable to meet its obligations. The financial deficiencies still exist today. This problem needs to be dealt with by:
• The Legislative Branch
• The Executive Branch
• The Saipan Chamber of Commerce, and
• Other organizations in the CNMI
We are all aware of the serious financial liability that the CNMI government is presently facing. It is inevitable that such liability must be shouldered by all of us living in the CNMI. I have not been able to pinpoint the exact amount such liability but I am sure it is somewhere in high million of dollars. I suggest the appropriate agency of this government prepare a financial statement. We must all work together and find the least painful way to resolve the serious financial crisis of this government. Lest we forget, the financial obligations of the government is “in fact” the obligation of taxpayers in the CNMI. One solution that would ease the financial tension is to reduce the cost of operating the branches of the government down to the departmental and divisional levels. Reduce the number of employees of the government to a bearable level, and arrange with businesses to absorb them. Provide for a program where business firms train new locally hired employees in their respective professions. This procedure would solve the needed reduction of operating costs to the government while the private sector would gain someone who may be permanently employed.
In Guam, for instance, the legislature is unicameral with 15 senators. Guam’s population is somewhere in the area of 190,000. Here in the CNMI the estimated population is about 55,000, including nonresidents. We should seriously consider reducing the size of our Senate and House members to say, six and 10 members, respectively. The Legislature could meet 10 working days per quarter and be paid $100 per diem. Reduce the number of the Legislative Bureau staff to four attorneys and eight to 10 supporting staff and have them work permanently. The Legislative Branch might be able to operate at a budget of say, $1.5 million per annum. The excess number of employees can be absorbed by the private sector, thus complement the number of workers.
I fully recognize that the above scenario might be construed “ridiculous” by some. However, as a taxpayer, it is critically important that we have to find a way to reduce the expenses of operating our government efficiently. What I am suggesting is probably next to impossible but how else are we going to cope with the needed manpower in the private sector?
We need to know the answers to the following questions. We will then be in a much better position to “fine-tune” the overall manpower needs of the CNMI.
• What is the total number of workers in the CNMI government?
• What is the total number of resident workers presently employed in the private sector?
• What is the total number of CNMI residents who are unemployed?
• How many CW-1 workers are in the CNMI at the present time?
• What is the estimated number of additional workers needed now?
• What is the estimated number of additional workers needed annually as of 2017?
According to U.S. Homeland Security/Immigration, CW program will be phased out by 2019. Perhaps the business community should consider converting some if not all to “H-1” and “H-2” categories.
Development of our economy
1. Promotion of tourism destination:
Marianas Visitors Authority is doing an effective job in promoting the CNMI as “a premier tourist destination.” On average, it is anticipated that arrivals will definitely increase over the next several years. Based on available information and based on projection there will be need of rooms to accommodate visitors of 946,500 room nights; and at an average three nights occupancy per room, we are looking at 7,780 hotel rooms will be available by year 2021. The result of the projected influx of tourists/visitors to the CNMI looks very promising. We must therefore be prepared to cope with the anticipated increase in arrivals. We must collaborate with our government as well as the pertinent agencies of the U.S. government to complement our needs for a successful economic development.
2. Identify needs of the industry and bring them to fruition:
a) The business community and the CNMI government must work closely together to solve the most critical issue facing us today—nonresident workers. Even if we reduce the size of the government and train local residents (U.S. citizens) to take on jobs presently held by non-resident workers, there is not enough local manpower to satisfy the needed numbers. Subject to verification, the estimated number of government workers is approximately 4,000. Several months ago, the CNMI Department of Labor estimated the number of unemployed is 10,000. This number should be segregated by age and job classification or proficiency. We will then be able to identify what jobs might be available to accommodate the 10,000 or so unemployed.
b) We in the CNMI can no longer handle the growth of our economy without external element. Over the years we have witness the growth of our economy. Such growth demands for skilled and unskilled workers. The local residents who are willing and able to work will no doubt find a job. But the local source will never be able to fully accommodate the total need of our economy. The answer therefore is quite obvious—nonresident workers.
3. Seek the understanding and support of the US government:
a) Those of us in the business community are painfully aware of the critical need for imported workers. Over the years we have learned to rely on these workers to enhance the needed manpower. Many of these workers, (majority of whom are from the Republic of the Philippines), have been in the CNMI for over 20 years or more. The CNMI have become their home. They have children born in the CNMI and are U.S. citizens.
b) We should ask our leaders in the CNMI government and Delegate Gregorio “Kilili” C. Sablan to provide for these Filipinos and their family members to be extended amnesty by granting them U.S. permanent resident status. I strongly believe that they truly deserve favorable consideration from the United States and grant them U.S. permanent residency to allow them to remain the CNMI. I suggest that Filipinos who have been in the CNMI, “legally and continuously for a period of 10 years” be extended a U.S. permanent resident status. I heard from reliable source that in the last U.S. Congress, the Senate passed legislation to grant permanent status to most of the CW workers (S. 744, Immigration Bil, 113th Congress). But the provision died along with the entire immigration bill at the hands of Republicans who were opposed to “amnesty” for illegals. Of course CW workers were granted legal CW status thus they are legally in the CNMI.
c) The above suggestion will reduce the need for “CW-1” requirement. Anyone eligible for U.S. permanent resident status as stated herein above must apply to ensure they qualify under the established regulation.
d) I for one feel that there are many deserving Filipinos who deserve our consideration and sincerely hope that our political leaders, especially Congressman Kilili Sablan should be given full support as he deals with his colleagues in Congress and hopefully with the Obama administration.
e) I learned that during WWII, Filipinos were actively engaged in fighting during the battle of the Philippines. They were and still are the staunchest allies of the United States of America today. The ethnic compatibility between Filipinos and the people of the Northern Mariana Islands are quite evidently favorable.
David M. Sablan Sr.