In recent weeks Federal and CNMI officials have been issuing statements concerning the CW Program, which is scheduled to be phased out in three years.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services lowered the cap for fiscal year 2016 to 12,999, which is 1,000 fewer than the 2015 limit of 13,999. The CW Program started out in 2009 with a cap of 22,417, the number of workers that had been permitted by the CNMI prior to the extension of U.S. immigration law.
As 2019 approaches there is more talk of how the CNMI desperately needs to continue a 'special for us' foreign worker program to maintain a stable economy. The talk appears to center on repeating past mistakes. The solution most often spoken of is to pass legislation that would allow the CNMI to continue to cycle foreign workers in and out of the CNMI like dehumanized labor units.
If the Consolidated Natural Resources Act, P.L. 110-229, had been followed as intended there would be no need for this discussion. The stable workforce that the CNMI is forever seeking would have long been in place.
The CNRA passed in 2008, mandated that the Department of Interior prepare a report for Congress with a recommendation on the status of the CNMI's nonresidents. The 2010 DOI report stated:
"Consistent with the goals of comprehensive immigration reform, we recommend that the Congress consider permitting alien workers who have lawfully resided in the CNMI for a minimum period of five years to apply for long-term status under the immigration and nationality laws of the United States."Had the Department of Interior, CNMI and Federal leaders acted in 2010 on that recommendation and pushed for legislation that would have granted the legal, long-term nonresidents a pathway to citizenship, this problem of a stable workforce would have been solved. A skilled and dedicated workforce would be in place today. Instead we hear the same phrases taken from the decades-long conversation of how to continue a program where foreign workers are regarded as replaceable, disposal labor units rather than as valued future citizens.
Governor Eloy Inos has called for 902 talks to discuss the deadline for the end of the CW Program, which will zero out foreign workers. From the Marianas Variety:
In his Oct. 2 letter to Obama, Inos expressed concern about the expiration in Dec. 2019 of the federal CW program that allows the islands to hire nonresident workers without going through the more expensive and restrictive H-visa process.Has the governor considered that if all of the legal longtime foreign workers were granted green cards the cost to hire workers would be zero?
Esther Kia’aina, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas met with the governor earlier this month. She stated:
“DC is a lonely world,” Kia’aina said. “We cannot be your only advocates. …It’s critically important for the White House and other federal agencies to know the people and what the government of the Marianas is facing at this time.”
“It is the transition to a tourism-driven economy, and the potential of proposed federal activities that have been of grave concern to the people. And it also includes the looming deadline of 2019—an absolute deadline. “Prior to last November, it was not absolute. You have an absolute deadline come Dec. 31 in 2019; the CW workers will be zeroed out. That should be, I think, on top of the mind for everybody.”Why isn't Kia'aina pushing for a stable workforce; for green cards for the legal, long-term foreign workers who have been valuable, upstanding community members for decades? The Department of Insular Affairs may benefit by looking at the whole picture and listening to the voices of all of the people who have called the CNMI home over the last few turbulent decades.
The Saipan Tribune quoted Delegate Gregorio Sablan's press release:
Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-Saipan), in a statement yesterday, said that lowering the CW cap is a “call for more U.S. workers,” noting that this means “employers must continue to find more ways to hire U.S. workers, if growth is to continue.Since 2009 when the CW Program was initiated almost half of the private work force made up of the foreign workers who lived and worked in the CNMI for decades have left for greener pastures or returned to their homelands. The stress of the visa renewal process, the uncertainty of job security, and the unlikely chance that they will ever get improved status has driven many foreign workers from the CNMI. Some of the luckier ones I keep in touch with have landed secure jobs in Canada, New Zealand and the U.S. mainland -all with a pathway to citizenship.
It is amazing that federal officials, leaders and policy makers continue to support the CNMI's mantra, "Poor us, we need help to keep a workforce made up of disenfranchised, foreign workers" when the solution is obvious. Give the legal, long-term foreign workers who make up the vast majority of the private workforce a pathway to citizenship.