Kilili: Invest in US workers (FUTURE OF CNMI WORKFORCE 2/3)

Oct 3, 2018

Saipan Tribune Editor’s Note: The following is part of a series that examines what is being done today to prepare for the end of the foreign worker program in 2029.

Companies can’t be passive about employee development and it is time to invest in the CNMI workforce, according to Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP)

“Employers must do whatever they can to take in U.S. workers and invest in them because they are the people that will be here…“The law says that you can only hire a non-U.S. worker when there are no U.S. workers available,” he said.

For many private companies, that includes offering internship opportunities to students to give them an idea of the workforce needs of the future, trade schools opening up courses that will teach local workers the skills to enter the job market, and job fairs that connect employers to prospective employees.

In July this year, H.R. 5956, or the Northern Mariana Islands U.S. Workforce Act of 2018, was signed into law by President Donald J. Trump.

That law raised the number of foreign worker visas, called CW-1 visa, to 13,000, and extended the foreign worker program, called CNMI-Only Transitional Worker permit program, through 2029. The wisdom behind the 10-year extension is to strengthen ongoing local initiatives to develop the CNMI’s U.S. workforce, transitioning away from the decades-old reliance on the importation of foreign workers, mainly from the Philippines and China.

“For now, we need to focus on the training… As more workers are hired, there should be more in-house training. I want U.S. workers to get training and to be given a chance to work…

“There may be other things that we can do long-term to improve and make sure the opportunities for the U.S. workers go to U.S. workers,” Sablan said.

He also believes that non-U.S. workers should be given immigration status other than CW-1.

“Make them more dignified and recognize their contribution… Many people here have given or have lived here over half of their lifetime and what do we say after that? Just thank you and goodbye? I would rather see that we take care of those who have been here for a long time than bring in completely new strangers,” he said.

“I have worked on this to change the status of some non-U.S. workers. To give them status that remove them from CW and make them residents, even only in the CNMI for starters. They are not only workers; they are also consumers. Many have been here for a long time, have become part of the community, and many of them have children born here and these children are a potential market to hold jobs here,” he added.

According to Sablan, the 10-year extension provided under H.R. 5956 should not be looked at as a leeway to be complacent. “I’m not looking at 10 years. I’m looking at today…. we need to do all that we can to give U.S. workers opportunities to work today.”

Sablan described the example of Guam construction company Pacific Rim Constructors Inc., which recruited employees from not just Guam but also the Federated States of Micronesia. “They did this by offering better wages than is typically available in FSM,” he said.