US Senate fails to pass CW increase

Dec 11, 2016

Marianas VarietyTHE U.S. Senate adjourned on Dec. 10 without passing legislation to increase CW nonimmigrant worker permits in the CNMI for 2017, U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan said in a statement.

He was able to get his bill, providing a one-year increase in the CW cap, through the U.S. House on Tuesday, but he said a hold on all bills in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, and objections to passage of immigration legislation from the Senate Judiciary Committee blocked action on Sablan’s bill in the final working hours of the 114th Congress.

“We were very fortunate to have been able to build bipartisan support in the House for legislation dealing with immigration — and win passage without any dissent,” Congressman Sablan said.

“Immigration is one of the most difficult issues to manage in Congress, even if the direct effect of any legislation is confined just to the Mariana Islands, as was the case with the bill I got through the House last week. For that reason, even though we were successful in the House, I have been very cautious about raising hopes back home.

“As is always the case here in Washington, persistence is the key to accomplishment. And we are already planning on what next steps we can take when the 115th Congress convenes on January 3.”

He said one factor that will come into play is a report expected this month from the Section 902 consultations between Gov. Ralph Torres and the special representative of President Obama, Assistant Interior Secretary for Insular Areas Esther Kia’aina.

Sablan said a congressionally mandated review of the labor situation in the CNMI by the Government Accountability Office due in April will also influence future decision-making.

“I do want to thank Governor Torres and Senate President Frank Borja, the Saipan Chamber of Commerce, the Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Strategic Economic Development Council and the Commonwealth Healthcare Center, all of whom provided support for passage of my bill, H.R. 6401, in the House last week,” Sablan said.

“I hope to continue to be able to demonstrate that same unity as we move forward on finding a better system of providing sufficient labor for the Northern Marianas economy.”

Sablan’s bill would have raised the cap on CW foreign workers from the current 12,998 back to the 2013 level of 15,000, but only for the current year.

His bill also barred the use of the CW permits for new construction jobs, which he said caused the cap to be reached almost as soon as the application period opened this October.

H.R. 6401 likewise raised the fee that employers must pay to help train local workers to replace foreign workers in the CNMI economy.

“There may have been lobbyists at work for special interests that want to save money by using CWs for temporary construction labor,” Sablan said, “or who do not want to pay more to train our local workers.”

“And it is always easier to block a bill than to get a bill enacted.

“That is one more reason to maintain a unified voice among our Marianas elected officials and our community at large, as we continue our efforts in the year ahead.”