Gov. Ralph DLG Torres wants the U.S. Department of Labor to clarify certain sections of U.S. Public Law 115-218—the Northern Mariana Islands U.S. Workforce Act of 2018—which outlines new requirements in applying for and processing of CNMI-Only Transitional Worker, or CW-1, permits.
Torres said his administration and the CNMI business sector have been diligent in their efforts to comply with the new requirements but they seek clarity on certain sections of the NMI U.S. Workforce Act.
“As we approach a new application cycle, I write to request additional clarification to ensure the application of this program is successful,” said Torres in a letter to U.S. Labor Secretary R. Alexander Acosta, which was dated last Feb. 8.
One section, Section 3(a)(2)(A), (48 USC § 1806(d)(2)(A), states that CNMI employers will be required to seek temporary labor certification from the U.S. Labor secretary as a confirmation that there are not enough U.S. workers in the CNMI and that employment of a non-immigrant worker would not affect the wages of a similarly employed U.S. worker.
“As employers in the CNMI begin preparing to submit petitions for the CW-1 program, additional clarification on the procedure for requesting a [TLC] is necessary in order to comply with the law,” said Torres in his letter to Acosta.
Press secretary Kevin Bautista told Saipan Tribune that the letter is a bit connected to the still-to-be released regulations by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services about the NMI U.S. Workforce Act of 2018.
USCIS is already delayed in releasing the new guidelines that was supposed to be sent out last Jan. 20, the 180th day after the law was signed on July 24, 2018.
“This letter is about asking for increased CNMI involvement in the determination of the availability of U.S. workers and for clarification on the [TLC]. [It is] slightly connected [to the USCIS regulations] but [P.L. 115-218] has both a Department of Homeland Security-USCIS component and a U.S. DoL component,” added Bautista.
In the recommendation he submitted to U.S. Labor following the enactment of P.L. 115-218, Torres is asking for consideration to include CNMI Labor in the determination of the availability of U.S. workers “[since] U.S. [Labor] does not possess labor force data for the CNMI nor is the CNMI a participant in the Occupational Employment Statistics program under the Bureau of Labor Statistics.”
“My administration is eager to assist in this process, as processing times for CW-1 petitions are critical in order to maintain the ongoing operations of the CNMI economy. Delays in the processing of CW-1 petitions remain an ongoing concern among my constituents and I reiterate my offer to assist in this process,” Torres added in his letter to Acosta.
Another section in P.L. 115-218 states that “in order to effectuate the requirements for a [TLC], U.S. [Labor] will make available a prevailing wage survey conducted by the CNMI for the wage determinations governing CW-1 petitions.”
Torres said, since P.L. 115-218 was enacted six months ago, the CNMI has yet to receive the “regulatory language on the statistical standards or criteria required for an annualized survey of wages to conform with this provision.”
“As wage levels and economic circumstances differ greatly between the CNMI and the territory of Guam, the creation of a CNMI-based survey is necessary to avoid economic harm to employers within our economy,” said Torres.
“However, in the absence of regulations or guidance on the performance of this survey, I am concerned that the CNMI will have neither the resources nor the time to provide adequate findings before the application window opens in April.”
He said that the CNMI is also on the recovery after being hit by the destructive force of Super Typhoon Yutu, which impacted the local economy and workforce since available resources are limited.
“For these reasons, I ask for your assistance in providing additional clarification on the application of this provision and request your consideration in interpreting the prevailing wage requirements of the CW-1 program in a similar manner as the H1-B program, and allow the CNMI to utilize the 2016 prevailing wage survey findings for petitions filed for fiscal year 2020,” said Torres.
“Providing the additional time and clarity on the production of this survey will allow U.S. [Labor] to make a reasoned and informed decision on filed petitions without doing unnecessary harm to the CNMI economy and its workers. I must stress that if the CNMI were to revert to using the mean of the wages of workers in Guam, businesses here will strain, and the employment of U.S. workers will be negatively impacted by this decision.”