Bill extending E2-CNMI program now with Obama

Dec 15, 2014

Marianas Variety by Alexie Villegas Zotomayor – LONG-TIME investors in the Northern Marianas will have a reprieve for another five years as President Obama is poised to sign a massive spending bill, H.R. 83, which includes U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan’s language on the E2-CNMI program, exemption from the cap on H visas and a bar on asylum claims.

On Saturday night, the U.S. Senate voted 53-42, 5 abstained, favoring the passage of the bill.

Two days earlier, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the bill with 219 voting “yes” and 206 voting against the bill. Ten members did not vote.

Three critical components of the bill will have a significant impact to the Northern Marianas: exemption from the numerical cap on H visas, a bar on asylum applications in the Northern Marianas and the extension of authorization for the E2-C program up to 2019.

In a statement yesterday, U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan expressed his appreciation to U.S. Virgin Islands Congresswoman Donna Christensen “who allowed her bill to be used to help me get what I needed for the Northern Marianas.”

He also recognized the work by Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska whom he said “played a key role in getting us over the finish line.”

He also thanked Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer who “helped to guide what turned out to be a very complex and uncertain legislative process to a successful conclusion.”

Sablan said passage of the bill would not have been possible if not for these two lawmakers in Congress on both sides of the aisle.

He also expresseded his appreciation to Gov. Eloy S. Inos whom he said understood the importance of the policies that would otherwise have expired on Dec. 31 and communicated his views to the speaker of the U.S. House.

H.R. 83 extends for another five years certain provisions of the 2008 Consolidated Natural Resources Act or the federalization law. One bars claims of asylum from within the Northern Marianas and has helped assure that tourists from China can come to the islands without need of a visa.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that without Sablan’s bill, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services would have to spend $16 million to process asylum claims or end the current system of entry for Chinese tourists.

Sablan’s language likewise keeps in place an exemption from the cap on the number of H visas that can be issued for the CNMI or Guam.

The CNMI will need to hire large numbers of temporary workers in view of the military buildup and developers like Best Sunshine building multibillion-dollar integrated resorts in the Northern Marianas.

The 261 E2-CNMI foreign investors, like CW workers, will be given a five-year extension.

These investors “will be able to continue in a special, grandfathered visa status, E-2C, for five more years.

In a separate statement, Governor Inos applauded the U.S. Congress and other federal officials for making the passage of H.R. 83 possible.

Inos thanked Kilili for his efforts in making sure that his bill would pass the House and now the Senate.

“I applaud the untiring efforts by our Congressman Sablan in protecting and fighting for the interests crucial to the CNMI. Furthermore, my administration certainly appreciates the White House’s statement in support of the enactment,” Inos said in an email yesterday.

“Congressman Sablan’s collaborative effort with colleagues such as Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Congresswoman Donna Christensen as well as those across the aisle is an asset dear to the people of the CNMI and should be commended.

“As we are all aware, this enactment protects our CW program, our business investors and our future needs for non-resident labor as we expect a construction boom in our tourism industry. I wish to personally extend my appreciation to Congressman Sablan, each of the 219 members of the House who supported this enactment, President Obama, Speaker Boehner, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and those who worked tirelessly to get this bill passed.

“With this level of cooperation where everyone has positive input, the CNMI business community can confidently move forward with expansion and reinvestment plans. I am equally pleased that H.R. 83 passed the U.S. Senate over the weekend and is now on its way to the White House,” the governor said.

Saipan Chamber of Commerce president Alex Sablan was equally pleased with this development.

“The chamber is elated by this news as I’m sure many investors and citizens that have been following this rather important legislation. Congressman Kilili, Governor Inos and the 18th CNMI Legislature should all be commended for their determination and fortitude in lobbying aggressively for its passage.”

He said the CNMI’s prayers were answered yet again.

“But truly our Congressman Kilili deserves special mention for his ability to work with members of U.S. Congress and get the job done.”

He said the passage of H.R. 83 is the culmination of Congressman Sablan’s two years’ work in continuing existing policies critical to the health of the Northern Marianas economy.

(With Cherrie Anne E. Villahermosa)