Report: Not enough workers


A recent report issued by the U.S. Department of the Interior notes what the CNMI government has been insisting all along—that there aren’t enough workers for the CNMI’s growing economy.

In fact, the DOI report, submitted to U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources chair Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) last Oct. 1, pointed out that there simply aren’t enough U.S.-eligible workers from other U.S.-affiliated jurisdictions in the region, such as the Federated States of Micronesia.

“The CNMI has explored sourcing its labor needs from regional jurisdictions to include the FSM, [Republic of the] Marshall Islands, and [Republic of] Palau. However, the available labor pool within these jurisdictions is inadequate to offset its foreign labor loss,” the report noted.

That there aren’t enough workers for the CNMI, even when sourcing them from U.S.-affiliated jurisdictions has long been a common refrain among CNMI businesses.

The DOI report about this lack of U.S.-eligible workers to replace foreign labor in the CNMI comes despite the U.S. government providing over $1 million to train FSM citizens through the Center for Micronesian Empowerment, or CME.

“The CME has graduated and found employment for 270 Pacific Islanders not from Guam,” the report noted, adding that the Office of Insular Affairs noted a per-person cost of $3,704.

“Despite these longstanding efforts by CME in partnership with federal and local partners, the available labor for the military build-up alone is currently insufficient,” it added, not referring to plans to build up the U.S. military’s footprint in Guam.

Besides the CME, the OIA, according to the report, noted that it continues to work with the U.S. Department of Labor on several technical programs that could possibly lead to recruitment and training of U.S. workers.

Such programs include the Zero Waste Initiative in partnership with the CNMI Department of Public Works. This program diverts green waste, yard waste, and food scraps into organic matter that will be recycled as a fertilizer and soil amendment—a program that will also employ and train composting technicians to receive compostable materials.

The OIA further noted that it also awarded the CNMI Office of Substance Abuse and Drug Rehabilitation a technical assistance grant to recruit and hire newly licensed and certified psychiatrists, who would provide “specialized leadership and clinical expertise at the center.”

The DOI submitted the report after the enactment of Public Law 115-218 in the wake of the passage of the NMI U.S. Workforce Act of 2018, which mandated that the department submit a report describing how it assists the CNMI in terms of identifying opportunities for economic growth, providing assistance in recruiting, training, and hiring U.S. workers, and providing other technical assistance.

U.S. PL 115-218 is also the legislation that ultimately extended the NMI’s CW program for another 10 years, along with a plethora of additional requirements and renewed restrictions for the CW visa, or the main temporary foreign labor visa that is uniquely eligible solely in the CNMI.

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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