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Business community launches signature drive

THE business community, through the Northern Marianas Business Alliance Corp. or NMBAC, has launched a signature campaign to urge the U.S. Congress to address the islands’ workforce issues.

NMBAC aims to collect 20,000 signatures which they will present to U.S. lawmakers and other federal officials in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 10.

The petition asks the U.S. government to reconsider its decision to reduce the CW cap by 3,000; to amend the federalization law, or U.S.P.L. 110-229; and not to revoke the visa-waiver program for Chinese and Russian tourists.

The business group said the goal is for the U.S. to address the CNMI’s long-term immigration and economic needs.

In a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, NMBAC president and spokesman Alex Sablan said they have been collaborating with the governor’s office, the delegate’s office and local lawmakers to draft a proposed bill that will increase the CW cap to 18,000 and extend it for 10 years beginning in Dec. 2019.

Sablan said they also want Guam and the CNMI to have separate visa-waiver programs.

“The visa-waiver program is a temporary system and it could be changed at any time, so we want to find a way to make it permanent and maybe to include other countries besides China and Russia.”

Sablan said they will likewise ask the federal government to include the prevailing wage in the CW program and authorize the CNMI governor to certify all foreign worker documents through the local Department of Labor before they are submitted to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for processing.

Sablan said on Guam, its Department of Labor certifies foreign worker documents to make sure they are all qualified before they can be submitted to USCIS.

“We would like to have the same process in the CNMI so we can also ensure that our U.S. citizens are considered for jobs and to ensure we are utilizing the CW program quota effectively — that we are not shortchanging the hospital, the hotel industry, the casino or small businesses.”

Sablan said they will join Gov. Ralph Torres and Rep. Angel Demapan in a meeting with federal officials on Dec. 10 in the nation’s capital, “hopefully with the assistance also of our U.S. delegate.”

According to the petition, access to skilled foreign workers is particularly critical given the ongoing economic development in the CNMI. It said the plan to establish the island as a leading regional tourist destination is at risk of being put on hold or abandoned entirely if commonwealth’s employers are unable to meet their labor needs.

The petition states that the continuing access to skilled foreign workers is not in conflict with the goal of reducing unemployment among U.S. citizens residing in the CNMI. Based on the latest census from the Department of Labor, the total unemployed U.S. workers in the CNMI is only about 7.5 percent of the current transitional worker quota, the petition added.

“Even if the Northern Marianas were to achieve full employment, a worthy but presently unrealistic economic goal given the commonwealth’s limited total population, including children and the elderly, of 50,000, the economy’s labor needs still could not be met through the resident U.S. citizen workforce alone.”

At the press conference, Alex Sablan said the governor has asked for a 30-day reprieve in the implementation of the 3,000-cut in CW slots.

He said the governor is hoping to get a positive response from USCIS.

Gloria Cavanagh of the Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands said the 3,000 reduction in CW slots, if implemented, will result in business closures. She said one hotel is at risk of closing down if the CW issue is not resolved.

DFS Saipan president Marian Aldan-Pierce said the CNMI still doesn’t have an adequate workforce. “People have to understand that even if we employ everybody on island, it is still not enough. Come to us and let’s talk about reality. We will explain everything, including why we are doing this. It will really affect us all.”

The group will collect signatures at the Thursday market, the Sabalu market, the Christmas Village and other locations on island.

Companies that want to participate in a business survey can go to https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/NP26NJT

“We will be presenting our best case in Washington, D.C., and we will lobby hard. We will continue to work hard in case we won’t get what we are requesting. Even though we don’t get everything that we are requesting, an extension and an increase in the cap will be helpful to us,” Alex Sablan said.

Their group, he added, has hired Jason Osborne as their lobbyist in Washington, D.C. Osborne is an old friend and is familiar with CNMI issues, Sablan added.

Source: Marianas Variety : http://www.mvariety.com/cnmi/cnmi-news/local/100491-business-community-launches-signature-drive

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