The CNMI-Only Transitional Worker program situation on Saipan is different on Tinian. If Saipan will be badly hit, imagine what will happen to economically struggling Tinian.
These were the words of JC Café manager Lot Bunao in a phone interview on what the Tinian community is doing to manage the 3,000-slot reduction of CW slots by the U.S. Citizenship Immigration Services in Fiscal Year 2018.
“First difference is we do not have the same access to USCIS like Saipan. Our application process for CW workers for example, experience delays because our mailing system is available only twice a week,” she said.
“Second, we are not always online to check on USCIS revisions and updates. There are times that the USCIS language is confusing when they say the application is closed but also says that the deadline for submission of applications in on a later date,” Bunao added.
Third, she said, business owners on Tinian do not have the resources to fly directly to the office of USCIS in the mainland to submit applications in person.
“Ultimately, when Tinian starts losing CW workers, businesses will be greatly affected because the reality is, there are not a lot of people on Tinian to fill up the workforce need,” she said.
“In terms of efforts, business operators have done their share of hiring U.S. citizens from the CNMI and as far as Hawaii. But when they hear they will work as a waitress, they decline the job offer,” she added.
An example of a business that will be gravely hit is JC Café where Bunao works. The restaurant is considered a landmark on Tinian having been on business for 25 years and caters to locals and tourists. JC Café employs 70 percent CW- 1 workers, people who have been with the restaurant for more than two decades.
“I was tasked by our good mayor, Joey Patrick San Nicolas, to organize and gather all the business owners and operators on Tinian whether they have CW-1 workers or not so that we could all agree on having a meeting about how the CW dilemma will impact the business community on Tinian and what to expect after 2019,” Bunao said.
She said they have contacted Korean, Chinese, and Japanese tour agents to join and she is currently coordinating with the Marianas Visitors Authority and Susan Cruz of the Department of Commerce on Tinian so that they can be informed of this proposed meeting.
“This is the first time that such a meeting on a topic will happen on Tinian. It is definitely urgent,” Bunao added.
In a separate interview, San Nicolas said he is looking at tomorrow, Jan., 10 to hold the meeting to be held at the Tinian Public Library at 6pm.
“Our target number of businesses is 20 and four businesses have already confirmed their attendance. I am continuously working to get the numbers up so everyone can be heard,” she said.
“The business operators are more than willing to discuss the scenarios that we are facing. We feel the urgent need to do something about it and we know that nobody will do this for us,” she added.
As a CW herself, Bunao said that despite the dilemma that CW-1 workers are facing on Tinian, the quality of their work is never compromised.
“We continue to work productively and take care of customer service for the community that we have grown to love. At JC Café, everyone knows us and even if we just hear someone’s voice without looking, we know who that person is. That is an example how our lives have been anchored on this island over 14 years,” she said.
Bunao said that the Tinian business community is not wasting any day to tackle the CW situation as this can affect them both temporarily and permanently.
“We are aware that this is a serious problem but we remain hopeful. After all we have been through here like the Tinian Dynasty Hotel & Casino closure, price increases, commodity mark-ups, we survived it all. We hope the same for the CW situation,” she said
“Again, we only have few people on Tinian that is why every person matters here. The reality is, we all need each other,” she added.