‘This announcement is disastrous’
Thousands of foreign workers in the CNMI woke up to news yesterday that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has reached the limit of 4,999 CW-1 permits allowed in fiscal year 2019.
In an early morning announcement yesterday, USCIS said the cap for CW permits for fiscal year 2019 was breached last April 15, 2018, with the agency using a lottery—a computer-generated random selection process—to select enough petitions to meet the fiscal year 2019 cap of 4,999.
According to the same announcement, USCIS would be returning unselected CW permit applications to employees. They are now considered rejected.
The low cap for fiscal year 2019 for CW-1 permits was filled through lottery after USCIS stated in a previous announcement that it had received enough permit applications to meet the cap.
Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) described this development as “unnecessary” as there is currently a bill being considered in Congress that would raise the cap.
Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands chair Gloria Cavanagh was more blunt, calling the news “disastrous.”
“Today’s announcement is disastrous. It should never [have] come to this. The economy that we enjoy today is only a few years old,” said Cavanagh.
She agreed that HANMI hotel-members may have less than 1,000 CW-1 workers, but the businesses in the CNMI—the backbone of the economy—has a lot of foreign workers it relies on.
“Without the auxiliary services, the CNMI cannot provide services to our tourists,” she said.
She also indicated that HANMI was the first organization to support the Northern Marianas Business Alliance Corp., a separate organization that supported the passage of U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R-AK) S. 2325, a measure seeking to reset the CW cap for fiscal year 2019 to 13,000; provide three-year permit validity to long-time CW workers; and extend the CNMI transitional period, along with programs under it such as the CW program and the E-2C investor program, to fiscal year 2029.
“Our only hope is for S. 2325 to pass quickly and [get enacted],” she said.
In a separate statement to Saipan Tribune, Sablan pointed out that one of the healthcare providers on the island had only about 15 percent of their CW applications approved. He declined to disclose specifics.
“The Trump administration set the CW cap at 4,999 for the coming year, which was totally unnecessary and very harmful to the economy and the people of the Marianas,” said Sablan, adding that he has informed the Trump administration “every step of the way” of the consequences of cutting the CW cap for fiscal year 2019 to 4,999.
“…But the Trump administration does not seem to understand how harmful a cut to 4,999 is to the Marianas, or how unnecessary, with 13,000 permits on the way,” he said.
In a presentation to the Saipan Chamber of Commerce last Tuesday, Sablan said he would be working on getting S. 2325 through the U.S. House of Representatives as soon as possible.
The U.S. Senate unanimously passed S. 2325 in a voice vote last April 24, 2018.
“…I am optimistic that the U.S. Workforce Act [S. 2325] will pass when Congress is back in session, and I am optimistic that President Donald J. Trump will sign our bill into law,” said Sablan.
Cavanagh said that, without S. 2325, the CNMI economy will “scale back to levels below any year that we have experienced.”
“Doing business in the CNMI is very difficult. Access to a secure labor force and limited lease opportunities should make us realize a new appreciation for our long-term investors. We hope for good news soon on S. 2325 and [a local bill extending the maximum lease terms with the Department of Public Lands],” she said.
“Without both of these, we must [be prepared] to endure as a welfare state,” she added.