More work, fewer workers

Deadline looms for Northern Mariana Islands

ONCE the clock turns 12 midnight on December 31, 2019, a cloud of uncertainty would hang in the air in the Northern Mariana Islands. That is the expiration date of the CNMI – only transitional worker nonimmigrant visa program, better known as “CW-1.” The CW-1 program allows eligible foreign laborers to work in the CNMI while giving their employers ample time to change some of their hiring practices toward acquiring more from the local workforce or transitioning their guest workers to suitable US work visas if ever they want to keep their services.

The program, a unique work visa classification from other US states and territories, encourages businesses and other companies to employ more local residents or US citizens, eventually allowing foreign workers to find alternative immigration status before the transition period ends. It was established through the 2008 Consolidated Natural Resources Act or Public Law 110-229 that puts a cap on the number of foreign workers that decreases every year until it reaches zero after 2019.

The foreign worker permit system was only a five-year program that began in 2009 and should have ended in 2014 but the US Citizenship and Immigration Service granted the CNMI government another five-year extension that’s why the 2019 deadline. Governor Ralph Torres, however, along with CNMI Delegate Gregorio Sablan and the business community—

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