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U.S Congress passes CNMI contract worker bill, sends to Trump for signature

WASHINGTON, DC – In a special pro forma session, the U.S. House of Representatives passed Congressman Gregorio 'Kilili' Camacho Sablan’s bill aimed at the problem caused by Chinese construction workers using up contract worker permits in 2016 and 2017. Sablan’s Northern Marianas Economic Expansion Act now goes to President Trump, who is expected to sign it into law as early as next week.

“Local businesses and the hospital will now be protected from another surge of new, foreign construction workers taking the limited CW permits that are needed for long-term workers in the Marianas,” Sablan said.

“The 1,500 or so construction workers, who have been in the Marianas since before October 2015, and the local companies that employ them will not be affected by my bill. They can still renew their CW permits.

“And anyone with a large development will still have access to the unlimited H-2B visas for those temporary construction workers.

“My bill prevents the competition between those two different categories of workers,” Sablan explained, “and gives our local businesses some protection from big developers.”

Sablan’s legislation also permanently increases the fee that goes to train U.S. workers to get jobs in the Marianas economy. The fee will now be $200 for each CW permit issued.

To date the Commonwealth has received $10 million in training fees and 1,200 U.S. workers have been added to the labor force. About $3 million remains available to spend, according to testimony by the Government Accountability Office at the April hearing on Congressman Sablan’s bill.

Originally, the House passed the Northern Marianas Economic Expansion Act with 2,000 additional CW permits to offset the surge of Chinese construction workers. But that number was cut back to 350 after it was revealed at an April hearing held by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that there were 2,400 local people unemployed in the Marianas.

The rash of labor abuse cases arising at the same time also made many in the U.S. Senate reluctant to allow for any more CW permits.

“There are 306 CW permits expiring in August and September,” Sablan reported. “My legislation with 350 extra permits for 2017 should be able to take care of everyone who is expiring.

“And the special set-aside of at least 60 permits for health care workers and at least 10 for power plant operators will mean that the hospital can begin toreplace the nursing staff lost earlier this year,” he added.

“We could not help everyone. But by barring the use of CW permits for new construction workers my bill does make it less likely that this same problem will occur again.”

Sablan credits passage of H.R. 339 to the working group in the House and the Senate, Republicans and Democrats, with whom he has formed a trusting relationship during his nine years in office.

“Now that we have taken care of the short-term problem created by the surge of Chinese construction workers, the working group can turn to legislation with a longer-term solution to the need for labor to keep our economy going and to keep the number of local U.S. workers growing.”


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