Kilili bill pushes CNMI-only status for ‘legacy workers’

Jul 29, 2018

Saipan Tribune - Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) announced Friday his introduction of a bill in U.S. Congress that seeks to provide a CNMI-only immigration status to long-term foreign workers—called legacy workers—in the CNMI.

In a statement from his office, Sablan said that his H.R. 6578 would provide a CNMI-only status to long-time foreign workers in the CNMI and, ultimately, a pathway to U.S. citizenship after five years.

While the bill was not readily available for Saipan Tribune’s review on the U.S. Congress website, Sablan noted in his statement that the bill is intended to care for the gradual decrease in the number of available CW permits—the work permits of CNMI foreign workers—as the fiscal years go by.

According to the recently passed Public Law 115-218, which was U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop’s (R-UT) H.R. 5956, the CW-1 cap for fiscal year 2019 would start off at 13,000 and would be lowered by 500 slots annually from fiscal year 2020 to fiscal year 2022 and 1,000 annually from fiscal year 2023 to 2029, or the end of the program.

“…We have to start preparing for the gradual decrease in the number of CW permits over the next 10 years,” said Sablan in his statement. “The new NMI Workforce Stabilization Act [H.R. 6578] does that. It gives legacy workers permanent status so they will not need CW permits and they and their families can become full members of the community.”

According to the statement, H.R. 6578 would be the “first of a series of bills” Sablan plans to introduce in the upcoming 116th Congress.

One such legacy worker, who prefers to be called only as Joy, welcomes the proposal.

Although Sablan’s statement did not specifically determine that the NMI-only status would be as a green card, Joy remains optimistic that some type of “improved status” is on the way.

She has worked in the NMI for 17 years.

Joy never aspired for a green card or U.S. citizenship as she plans to eventually go home to the Philippines as her parents are there, but she noted that fearing for her job every year has not been not helpful.

“[It’s good to have] assurance to continue working on Saipan while helping my family in the Philippines with a better working permit,” she said. “Every year, every renewal, I fear that my job with my employer would be filled by a U.S. eligible worker or another applicant who got lucky in the CW-1 permit processing.”

Gov. Ralph DLG Torres declined to comment on the bill, saying he wishes for more time to review the bill before providing a statement.

This is not the first time an improved immigration status was proposed for the CNMI’s legacy workers. The Department of the Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs even recommended it. But the proposal has proven unpopular among local voters and the local government.