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CNMI Contract worker 'fix' gets U.S. Congress attention

Washington, D.C.-- CNMI Delegate to the U.S. Congress Gregorio 'Kilili' Camacho Sablan announced Friday an agreement with leading members of Congress on legislation that gives the Marianas access to foreign labor for another 10 years and continues the trend to increase the number of local workers.

Sablan has been working together with U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, since July 2017 on this long-term solution. Murkowski formed a working group to draft the new policy, with Sablan and key Republicans and Democrats from the Senate and the House to help ensure success of the legislation. Murkowski and Sablan introduced the bill Friday in the Senate and the House.

“I thank Chair Murkowski and all the members of the working group,” Sablan said. “We have put in many long hours of discussion in person, on the phone, and by e-mail to reach this point of agreement.

“When we started, there were some in Washington who said ‘no extension.’ So, we have come a long way. “We now have a solid foundation for a long-term labor policy for the Northern Mariana Islands. I am sure that there will be more fine-tuning in the days ahead, as we work for passage.”

If passed, the legislation continues for another 10 years, until 2029, special access to foreign workers for the Marianas economy. It allows an increase in the number of CW permits to 13,000 beginning in fiscal year 2019 —3,001 over the current cap. This would override the cap of 4,999 that the Department of Homeland Security announced for next year.

In addition to the CW permit program, by extending the transition period the Sablan/Murkowski bill would also extends the current E-2C visa for investors who came in under CNMI immigration law. It extends the exemption from the national cap on H visas for temporary workers. And it extends the bar on claims of asylum, which is the underpinning for Chinese tourism to the Marianas.

The bill, also, provides a new permit system for foreign workers who have been in the Marianas for the last five years. Instead of annual renewal, the new CW-3 category will be good for three years. And CW-3 permits will be renewable for three years after the worker “touches back” in their home country for 30 days.

“The CW-3 permit will give our local businesses that have legacy workers more certainty year-in and year-out and reduce business costs. Although, business will still be required to pay annually into the training fund for local workers. “The CW-3 permit will also provide a more stable situation for foreign workers and their families, who have become part of our community,” Congressman Sablan said.


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