Over 30% drop in CW-1 workforce

40% drop in foreign workers from 2019 to 2020

First part of a series

The CNMI saw an over 30% drop in its foreign workforce from 2020 to 2021 alone and an over 40% plunge compared to the year 2019.

Labor Secretary Vicky Benavente said in an interview that the CNMI saw an all-time low in its CNMI Only Transitional Worker, or CW-1, workforce in the last two years since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This was determined, Benavente said, because employers are required to advertise jobs for CW-1 workers on the DOL website, marianaslabor.net. This allows DOL to keep track of how many CW-1 workers are currently working in the CNMI each fiscal year.

In 2020, the number of job openings that were advertised for CW-1 workers totaled 17,163. This went down to only 10,618 CW-1 jobs that were advertised covering the period from January 2021 to September 2021.

“That’s a reduction of over 6,000 CW-1 openings. It’s showing us that employers don’t need that many employees. So that’s a 38% reduction in job openings announced on our website from 2020 to 2021, as of Sept. 30,” Benavente said.

She said the CNMI saw an even bigger drop in foreign workers when comparing the numbers to the year 2019 when the CNMI saw over 29,000 CW-1 jobs advertised on their website.

“When you look at 2019, there were a total of 29,992 CW-1-type job openings. That’s a big drop for 2019 to 2020. That’s a 42% drop of job openings for CW-1 workers from 29,000 to 17,000 in a year. Then, of course, in 2021, it dropped further with a 38% drop. It looks like it’s going to remain at an all-time low as far as the number of job openings for CW-1 workers,” she said.

It’s not just the COVID-19 pandemic that’s significantly cutting down the need for a CW-1 workforce. The Northern Mariana Islands U.S. Workforce Act of 2018 that extended the CW-1 program through Dec. 31, 2029, established a CW-1 cap for the remainder of the program, with a plan to eventually phase out the CW-1 program in 2029 and encourage the CNMI to bolster recruitment of U.S. workers in the CNMI.

According to the website of U.S. Citizenship and immigration Services, the CW-1 cap for fiscal year 2021 that concluded last month was 15,000 but the CNMI did not reach the cap for 2021 as a result of the pandemic.

Benavente said that with the continuous drop in the CW-1 workforce, DOL is looking at training programs to get locals to fill the gaps.

“It’s apparent we are trying to reopen our industries, tourism in particular. What we’re trying to do is get our people into training programs to either upskill what they have, as far as current skills go, or learn a new trade altogether. If we don’t have enough, then we just have to adapt. The CNMI is very good at that, we can adapt to an economic situation. The islands have always had good resilient people,” she said.

Kimberly Bautista Esmores | Reporter
Kimberly Bautista Esmores has covered a wide range of news beats, including the community, housing, crime, and more. She now covers sports for the Saipan Tribune. Contact her at kimberly_bautista@saipantribune.com.
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