Substitute bill drops CW-3

1,000 CW slot reductions starting FY 2024 onwards proposed

A proposed substitute to a U.S. Senate bill that extends the transition period for the CNMI’s foreign worker program to fiscal year 2029 omits a new permit type that gives its holder eligibility to work in the CNMI for three years.

U.S. Senate Bill 2325 has a proposed amendment that drops the CW-3 visa classification, among many others. U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) introduced the bill with the aid of a bipartisan, bicameral working group composed of Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP), Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, and several other members of the U.S. Congress.

In a document Saipan Tribune obtained yesterday, a proposed substitute bill to S. 2325 drops the proposed CW-3 visa classification. It, instead, includes a provision that would allow CW-1 permit holders who have had CW permits since fiscal year 2015 to apply for a CW-1 permit that is valid for three years and may be renewed for three-year periods during the transition period.

Besides dropping the CW-3 permit, the substitute bill also omits a provision that allows the CNMI governor to suggest to the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security to reserve a number of permits for job categories necessary to maintain public health safety in the Commonwealth as well as a provision that requires the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security to adjudicate a permit within 60 days.

It also added that starting fiscal year 2024 onwards, there would be a reduction of 1,000 CW slots annually, and only 1,000 CW slots for the first quarter of fiscal year 2030. CW slots remain to be reset to 13,000 in fiscal year 2019 and is steadily reduced by 500 annually until fiscal year 2023.

The substitute bill includes a provision that further strengthens the Department of Homeland Security’s fight against immigration fraud. The provision provides that an additional $50 would be imposed for the renewal of each CW petition, regardless of type.

The substitute provides that the U.S. Secretary of Labor would use or make available to employers an occupational wage survey, to be conducted by the CNMI governor. While the survey should meet U.S. Department of Labor standards, the survey would also determine the prevailing wages in the Commonwealth on an annual basis. The substitute bill further provides that, in the absence of an occupational wage survey, the prevailing wage would be determined by the arithmetic mean, or average, of the wages of worker similarly employed on Guam, according to the wage component of the Occupational Employment Statistics survey conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The proposed substitute includes a provision that prioritizes CW-1 renewals over new CW-1 permit applications by allowing CW-1 renewal permits to be renewed within a period of six months prior to its expiry while new CW-1 permit applications may only be filed four months prior to the date which the employer needs the beneficiary’s services.

The Secretary of Homeland Services’ authority to revoke permits remains in the substitute bill, but the basis for revocation was expanded. The DHS secretary now has the authority to revoke a CW permit if the employer fails to continuously employ a worker, fails to pay the worker, fails to submit requirements, or other violations of the terms and conditions of employment. An employer’s failure to provide a former, current, or prospective CW worker within 21 business days after receiving a request from such worker with attached supporting documents that has been exchanged between the employer and the USDOL, the DHS, or any other federal agency is also subject to permit revocation.

The secretary may also revoke a CW permit if the beneficiary does not apply for admission to the Commonwealth within 10 days after the beginning of the petition validity, if the employer requests consular processing.

Revoked permits are reallocated during the next fiscal year, in which an additional permit shall be made available.

CW-1 permit holders who have renewed their permit for more than two consecutive, one-year periods are required to go out for at least 30 days, according to the proposed substitute.

While the proposed amendments are yet to be final, the U.S. Senate would be convening today to review and act on S. 2325.

Grateful

Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, Rep. Angel A. Demapan, and the Northern Marianas Business Alliance Corp. remain grateful to Murkowski as her S.2325 gets reviewed by the U.S. Senate today.

Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) said he is unable to comment on the bill as of this time due to an agreement among members of the congressional working group.

“Congressman Sablan values the relationships of trust he has built with his colleagues over the years, and will abide by that agreement of the working group until they are ready to announce any further updates on the bill,” said a statement from the delegate’s office.

In a statement yesterday morning, Torres expressed gratitude to Murkowski for providing the “opportunity to work directly with her office on the recent amendments made to S. 2325.”

Torres, along with Demapan, has been in “direct communication” with Murkowski, who chairs the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, the committee handling S. 2325, which held a hearing on the bill last Feb. 6.

“I thank Sen. Murkowski and all the members of her working group once again for allowing us to put new language that is important to the needs of the CNMI into the bill. I also thank the Northern Marianas Business Alliance Corp. for their collaboration with me to advocate for the markups to the legislation. I’m thankful that the senator listened to our concerns about the construction ban in H.R. 339 and the problems they created, which include leaving out many of our long-term workers from the cap and not effectively protecting U.S. citizen employment,” Torres said.

“Senator Murkowski has informed me that these markups will be considered tomorrow. A few weeks ago, I also received personal assurances by Rep. Rob Bishop, who chairs the House Committee on Natural Resources, that he will ensure the speedy passage of this bill in the House. The discussions have been very fruitful, and we truly are one step closer to a passage of the bill within the coming weeks,” he added.

“I am thankful [to Murkowski for] listening to our concerns regarding our economy and workforce and specifically the damage that H.R. 339 had done to our legacy construction workers. I’m optimistic the Murkowski bill will pass the Senate quickly and move to the House where my dear friend, Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT), assured myself and Gov. Torres that he would pass Sen. Murkowski’s bill quickly,” said Demapan.

In a separate statement, NMBAC said that they too remain grateful to Murkowski, especially pertaining to the “language associated with the construction provision and prevailing wage consideration.”

“We are thankful for the final bill product and thank [Murkowski] for championing the legislation. NMBAC is hopeful for its quick passage,” the statement said.

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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