‘Risk losing tourists now or risk losing CW-1 later’


In light of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services plan to wind down the foreign worker program by 2019, the situation for Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) back in 2014 boiled down to a choice between potentially losing the CNMI parole program for tourists or losing the CW-1 program this 2019.

Sablan said he eventually chose to save the parole program for tourists instead of asking U.S. Congress for an extension on the CW program beyond 2019.

Sablan gave this explanation in a hastily called press conference last Wednesday. “[It’s] a little more complicated than this legislator understands,” referring to local lawmakers who have criticized him in the wake of the USCIS announcement.

“In 2014, in order to continue the bar on asylum for another five years, a Republican senator insisted on taking away the secretary of Labor’s authority. Without the bar on asylum, the Marianas could potentially lose all of our Chinese and Russian tourists who enter our border by parole,” said Sablan.

The U.S. secretary of Labor had a discretionary authority to grant an extension or delay in the CNMI transitional period. Since the Labor secretary lost the authority to grant an extension on the transitional period, the only way to obtain an extension or at is was through an act of Congress.

“So the choice was: lose half of our tourists today or let Congress make the decision to extend the transition period beyond 2019. Extending the transition period allows us to keep the CW-1 program, the CNMI-only E2 investor program, and the unlimited H-visas for the Marianas. These programs have benefitted the Marianas greatly and if you want to blame me for that, I accept the responsibility,” he added.

According to Marianas Visitors Authority records, Chinese arrivals to the CNMI have been increasing since the parole program was instituted. Chinese and Russian nationals require a U.S. visa to enter any U.S. territory other than the CNMI. Here, Chinese and Russian tourists are paroled in.

CW-1 problems beyond politics

According to Sablan, the CW-1 cuts and its massive consequences is a problem where politics have no place. He said protecting the workforce and “looking after our long-term economic wellbeing” have never been issues for politics.

“These are critical policy matters that affect our entire community. Unfortunately, some people have been trying to make these issues political. I welcome the governor’s call to set aside politics so we could work together; I hope everyone on his team listens. As I have said, we are stronger when we are unified. These do not apply only to the governor [and me], but to the members of the Legislature, businesses, all of us.”

In a previous statement on the release of the CW-1 numerical cap for fiscal year 2018 last Nov. 20, 2017, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres requested that politics be set aside to focus on “the needs of our entire community—everyone who calls these islands home.”

“This is serious business and we need all of our elected leaders of the Commonwealth to be serious as well as thoughtful and prudent in their public statements. Words have consequences,” said Sablan, adding that a legislator has been citing some “factual inaccuracies.”

“For example, it was a [former] Republican president—George Bush Jr.—not Barack Obama who signed Public Law 110-229,” said Sablan. P.L. 110-229, or the Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008, is the law that federalized immigration in the CNMI. The law also included the establishment of the CW-1 program.

“Whether intentional or not, this legislator’s inaccuracies are misleading and potentially damaging to our collective efforts to craft long-term solutions to the important policy challenges we face today. When elected leaders of the Commonwealth attack or disparage the good faith efforts of other members of the Congress…that does not help our efforts,” he said.

Rep. Angel A. Demapan (R-Saipan), who is eyeing Sablan’s seat in the 2018 elections, is highly critical of Sablan.

“From the enactment of Public Law 110-229 in 2008, the U.S. Congress and the then-Obama administration made dramatic changes to our economic livelihood. P.L. 110-229 imposed the transition deadline and expiration of the CW program in 2019 and then arbitrarily removed the secretary of Labor’s discretionary authority to grant further extensions or delays. Unfortunately, the members of the U.S. Congress, including our delegate, did not make any attempt to preserve the secretary of Labor’s discretionary authority, which would have served as a safeguard to protect the CNMI’s economic growth from being halted and jeopardized,” Demapan said in a previous statement.

Sablan said that any effort to criticize him fails to “help our efforts.”

“When elected leaders of the Commonwealth testify in Congress in support of bills and then later say in the media they don’t like those bills, that does not help our efforts. When the Commonwealth government provides Congress with data and then later say that [those] data are outdated, that does not help our efforts,” said Sablan.

Demapan had scored Sablan’s H.R. 339 as “severely short-sighted” and “failed to address the long-term needs of our Commonwealth.”

H.R. 339 essentially bumped up the number of CW-1 slots for fiscal year 2017 by 350, with 60 slots allotted to health-related occupations and 10 slots allotted to Commonwealth Utilities Corp. engineers.

Other key provisions of H.R. 339 include removing construction workers from the CW-1 program and a $50 increase in the education fee that employer’s pay when petitioning a foreign worker. The fee used to be $150 but is now $200. The money, which goes back to the NMI government, is used to fund local educational programs.

“I need to work with both Republicans and Democrats in both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate. I have been able to do so effectively over the past five terms and I have built trusting relationships with them. I would like to do the same with our Commonwealth government leaders. I am trying, and I need them to work with me as well,” said Sablan.

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.

Related Posts

Disclaimer: Comments are moderated. They will not appear immediately or even on the same day. Comments should be related to the topic. Off-topic comments would be deleted. Profanities are not allowed. Comments that are potentially libelous, inflammatory, or slanderous would be deleted.