Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and Northern Marianas Business Alliance Corp. officers and board members are currently in Washington, D.C. to meet with members of U.S. Congress and federal agencies to emphasize the enormous impact of ending the CNMI-Only Transitional Worker program on the CNMI economy and the importance of securing visa-free tourism in the CNMI.
The meeting with the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources gave Torres and NMBAC the opportunity to give a detailed report to committee chair Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) of the efforts that the private sector had made toward recruiting, hiring, and training U.S.-eligible workers in the CNMI.
The business community and employers carry the burden of proof in showing Congress that the CNMI is doing its part to recruit, hire, and retain U.S. eligible workers.
The U.S. Senate has the impression that the CNMI has made very little effort to recruit non-CW-1 workers
In an interview last July, NMBAC board member Marian Aldan-Pierce said it is of utmost importance to show efforts to recruit non-CW-1 workers. “We cannot only say it; we have to prove it,” she said.
During the meeting, NMBAC member Gloria Cavanagh seized the opportunity to present a report to federal officials and the senior counsel of the Senate committee to inform them of the years of serious effort the local business community has taken to recruit and train U.S. workers and the large-scale unemployment of these same U.S. workers if the program is ended in 2019.
She said the report is their effort to provide accurate and available data to ensure policy regarding the critical CW program is based on facts and the true needs of the people of the CNMI.
Torres discussed the framework of potential policies in CNMI Labor, the continued inclusion of substantive policy discussions regarding the CNMI, and the extent in which the CNMI’s foreign worker population contributes to jobs for U.S. citizens.
Meeting with U.S. House of Representatives and Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP), NMBAC chair Alex Sablan said this is the time to build as many bridges as possible.
“Today’s meetings gave us the perfect opportunity to address our concerns for the future of the CNMI economy and to lay out the facts and figures that, without a presence of foreign workers, U.S. citizens will lose their jobs to an equal proportion,” he said.
“I never stated that Delegate Sablan refused to work with us, despite media reports, because we need all the assistance to protect our economy that we can get and today we made a big step toward building the necessary support for our islands,” he added.
Alex Sablan said that the outcome of the meeting calls for members of the private sector to work together more than ever.
“We need to continue to document and compile all of our efforts to recruit U.S. workers and seek out alternative visas for existing CW permit holders who are eligible to apply,” he said.
“The private sector and our government have made historic investments in our local workforce, and it is critical that we all work together to showcase this effort to members of Congress,” he added.
The senior counsel of the Senate committee reiterated Murkowski’s commitment to introduce and pass legislation that will address the long-term workforce challenges facing the CNMI.
Meeting with House Resources and Department of Defense
Torres and the NMBAC met with the staff from the House Natural Resources Committee and staff from the personal office of committee chair Rob Bishop (R-UT 1st District).
After hearing the reports of NMBAC officer and board members Alex Sablan, Gloria Cavanagh, and Perry Inos Jr., the House staffers expressed surprise that H.R. 339 was being interpreted by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services “in such a narrow fashion.” They committed to work with Torres and NMBAC on a long-term solution to the CNMI’s labor issues.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Allison Sands met with Torres and the NMBAC and the former talked about updates on the divert airfield project on Tinian and expressed deep understanding of the workforce issues in the CNMI and reiterated the U.S. Department of Defense’s continued commitment to help support a long-term solution.