With the delay in the release of new guidelines for the CNMI-Only Transitional Worker Program, local businesses consequently have to postpone their long-term plans, according to Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands president Gloria Cavanagh.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has yet to release the new regulations based on the Northern Mariana Islands U.S. Workforce Act of 2018. USCIS was scheduled to release the new guidelines last Jan. 20—or 180 days after President Donald Trump signed the then-H.R. 5956 into law last July 24, 2018.
Cavanagh, the Pacific Islands Club general manager, told Saipan Tribune that businesses and employers have a lot of employment questions that need to be answered. “This, of course, is a huge setback in the planning process for our businesses.”
“There were a lot of changes that were made with the law. Many questions that have still gone unanswered. We were all looking forward to the regulations being released last week,” she said.
Cavanagh pointed out that the business atmosphere in the CNMI is already very challenging when dealing with local government leases and the labor issues.
With USCIS dragging its foot on the regulations, many long-term plans of businesses are now stalled. “Businesses find it impossible sometimes to lay out long-term strategies. The delay in the regulations puts us in a position of difficulty to even plan out one year.”
Cavanagh said the atmosphere in Washington, D.C. is also of no help after the federal government shutdown for 35 days—from Dec. 22 to Jan. 29. “There is much feuding in the federal arena right now, which puts us in the backburner.”
“The delay forces us to prepare documents knowing that the process may very well change. We are hoping that since the federal government is opened, at least temporarily, that the delay will not be too long.”
Cavanagh added that, although it is only for one year, the timing of the decision of the U.S. Department of State and USCIS to remove the Philippines’ eligibility to use the H-2B visa was bad. “This is very bad timing as the CNMI is in recovery mode [after two typhoons].”
“We have a half-finished [luxury hotel] building in our Garapan core, and leases are being negotiated where future improvement on infrastructure of certain hotels will be started (crossing our fingers),” said Cavanagh.
“Although the ban is only for one year, it is in a year that occurs right after the second largest storm in U.S. soil. I am hoping that we can appeal to the U.S. government to help exempt us. It is a long shot, but one that I think we have to go after,” she added.