Palacios: HR 339 may affect CNMI devt

Palacios cites construction worries in Guam

The enactment of a bill that made changes to the foreign worker program in the CNMI—the CW-1 program—concerns Senate President Arnold I. Palacios (R-Saipan), specifically the construction worker provision.

U.S. President Donald J. Trump enacted Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan’s (Ind-MP) H.R. 339 last week, opening up a 350 more CW-1 slots, increases the amount of CW-1 fees that employers pay, and excludes post fiscal year 2016 construction workers from the CW-1 program.

Palacios said he is most concerned about the construction worker provision of the new law as incoming foreign construction workers are now unable to work under the CW-1 program and employers are now required to secure H2-B visas for these workers.

Citing the construction worker crisis in Guam, Palacios hopes that “everything will be fine” in the CNMI compared to Guam.

“I hope everything will be fine, considering the situation what Guam is experiencing with construction workers under H2-B,” he said.

Guam has had an almost 100-percent rejection rate for construction workers under the H2-B visa program.

Palacios also pointed out that aging construction workers might be a problem since the new law omits newer CW-1 construction worker applications.

“At the end of the day, [assuming] that we got the CW-1 program extended, that provision means we still couldn’t bring in construction workers unless they have been here [prior to the accepted date],” he said.

“From the very beginning that was a cause for concern and that provision kind of restricted ourselves. I hope we didn’t shoot ourselves in the foot with [this provision],” he said, adding that Congress did not even give half of Sablan’s initial request of 2,002.

Trump enacted Sablan’s HR 339 into law last Wednesday morning, signifying for the first time in the CW-1 program’s history an increase in slots. Besides the increase in slots, which also for the first time assigned 60 slots to the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. for health-related professions and 10 slots to the Commonwealth Utilities Corporation for engineers, the new law removes construction workers from the CW-1 program and increases to $200 the education fee employers are required to pay when petitioning a foreign worker.

The fee is to be used to fund the education of U.S.-eligible workers and U.S. permanent residents.

Sablan reiterated during his press conference last week that H.R. 339 was meant to be a “short-term solution” to the problems raised from the horde of Chinese construction workers hogging 4,000 CW-1 slots. Sablan added that a longer-term solution for the CW-1 crisis is in the works.

Erwin Encinares | Reporter
Erwin Charles Tan Encinares holds a bachelor’s degree from the Chiang Kai Shek College and has covered a wide spectrum of assignments for the Saipan Tribune. Encinares is the paper’s political reporter.

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