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Kilili: We need to work together

THE Society for Human Resource Management-NMI chapter on Thursday expressed full support for the bill that will extend the federal immigration transition period and raise the numerical cap for CW permits to 13,000.

The Northern Mariana Islands U.S. Workforce Act, which has been introduced in both houses of the U.S. Congress, also provides protection for U.S. workers by requiring employers to obtain certification from the U.S. Department of Labor confirming that no qualified U.S. worker is able, willing, qualified or available for the job.

It creates a new transitional visa classification — CW-3 — for non-U.S. citizen workers who were admitted here during fiscal year 2014 and are still here on the enactment of the bill.

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The bill’s House version, H.R. 4869, was introduced by U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, who caucuses with the Democrats, while the Senate version, S. 2325, was introduced by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairwoman Liza Murkowski, R-Alaska, on Jan. 19, 2018.

In his remarks during the SHRM meeting at the Pacific Islands Club-Charley’s Cabaret, Kilili said:

“We need to be united here at home. We need everyone to back this bill. We need your businesses, and the organizations you belong to, to back this bill. We need the Legislature, and the mayors and the municipal governments to back this bill.

“Because if we do not stand together, everything will fall apart,” he added, as he describes the bill as a “very delicate balance of many competing viewpoints” in the U.S. Congress.

“But it gives us all we really wanted: more time, more workers, protections for our own local workers, and protection for legacy workers and the businesses that employ them,” Kilili said.

He also told SHRM members that “if you get behind the U.S. Workforce Act Now, if everyone gets behind the bill that Senator Murkowski and I introduced, there is a chance that in the next two months we can show enough progress on the bill to get the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to reconsider the 4,999 cap.”

He said he has “already made a formal request to the [DHS] secretary to lift the cap and let Congress do its work. What will really help to convince her are clear signs that Congress is moving forward on a long-term solution beyond 2019.” The current federal CW program ends in Dec. 2019.

SHRM president Frank Ada said their board will meet soon and come up with their comments on the bill. “But we stand firmly behind it because it extends the CW program and the number of CW permits to 13,000.”

“That is a whole lot better,” he said, than what U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is now implementing.

SHRM board member Penny Jones said they have been waiting for some good news from Washington, D.C., adding that Kilili’s bill has given them hope.

Text of Kilili’s remarks

“Working on workforce issues has been non-stop. And now, to answer the question, what happens after 2019?

“As many of you know, I have been part of a bipartisan, bicameral working group in Congress, negotiating legislation to address the labor needs of the Marianas beyond 2019. Republicans and Democrats. House and Senate offices. Negotiations started last summer.

“The working group had a confidentiality agreement, however, so we could kick around ideas freely in our discussions, and hopefully, find common ground. That confidentiality agreement meant I could not talk about details outside the working group without breaking my word to my congressional colleagues. And I could not risk the trust I had built up with them over the last 10 years. Even though here at home people were worried and wanted assurance an agreement was shaping up.

“Thankfully, now I can speak freely. Negotiations were successfully completed last Friday morning [last week]. And Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski and I introduced the resulting legislation a few hours later— she in the Senate, with S.2325, and I in the House, with H.R. 4869. Our bill is called the Northern Mariana Islands U.S. Workforce Act.

“Now that this legislation is public record I am free to go over the specifics with you — and answer your questions. And, of course, I want your feedback, too. Because most legislation is amended and fine-tuned after introduction. And the U.S. Workforce Act will be no exception.

“Up until Tuesday, the federal government was shut down, largely over the question of who we should let into our country and who we should keep out. And at its heart that is precisely what the bill Senator Murkowski and I introduced is about — who to let in? For how long? And how many?

“In fact, let me give you some of the inside story of the negotiations over the U.S. Workforce Act. I think I can tell you this without betraying any trust. When I first began these negotiations, there were some at the table who said, literally: ‘There can be no extension of the CW program beyond 2019.’ ‘No extension.’ Period. That is where these negotiations started: ‘No extension.’

“Fortunately, in 2016, Senator Murkowski, her Democratic counterpart, Sen. Maria Cantwell, and I together assigned the GAO, the Government Accountability Office, to report on the labor situation in the Marianas. We knew we would need an objective, third-party analysis as the basis for any change in the law. When that report came out last May, we brought it to the working group discussions; and that repot did help change attitudes.”

“Many of you know about the GAO report. It said that if you take all the foreign workers out of the Marianas GDP would drop between 26 to 62 percent.

“After the GAO report, the discussion changed from ‘No extension’ to, ‘Okay, what is that minimum number of foreign workers the Marianas needs?’ Also — and this is very important — how do we make sure over time in the Marianas there are more and more U.S. workers, meaning: U.S. citizens, green card holders, and citizens of the Freely Associated States?

“Those are the two questions the working group focused on after the GAO report: What is the minimum number of foreign workers needed? How do we put more U.S. workers into jobs? And the result is the Sablan/Murkowski bill, the U.S. Workforce Act.

“In broad outline the bill does four things:

“1) It extends the transition period until 2029.

“2) It resets next year’s cap on CW workers from 4,999 to 13,000.

“3) It adds new protections for local workers, so our own people get jobs first.

“4) And it creates some stability for local businesses — like yours — that have long-term foreign workers.

“As in any negotiations, you do not get everything you want. There is give and take. I did not get everything I wanted in this bill. I wanted 18,000 workers. I did not get 18,000 workers.

“But, I got agreement on those four main points, which I think were the most important goals of the negotiations.

“And judging from all the other people who want to take credit for this bill — it looks like they must also think it is a pretty good deal. Well, that is great! I welcome everyone to get on board.

“And I am very grateful to everyone — many of you — who shared ideas and concerns with me and told me what to focus on in the negotiations. Now I hope SHRM will get on board with the resulting bill, too. Because we have a long way to go to get it enacted into law.

“As I just said, the federal government shut down over these very issues of who to let into the country. We have a President who wants to build a wall to keep people out.

“So, if we are going to have any chance at all of getting the U.S. Workforce Act through the Senate and through the House and signed by the President, we need to be united here at home. We need everyone to back this bill. We need your businesses and the organizations you belong to, to back this bill. We need the Legislature, and the mayors and the municipal governments to back this bill.

“There may be some fine-tuning. And, unfortunately, some may fall through the cracks. But I think we should take ‘yes’ for an answer and support the broad principles of this legislation Senator Murkowski and I introduced on Friday [last week].

“And there is no time to waste. On April 1st, the application window opens for next year’s CW permits. The Trump administration already set the cap at 4,999 — 5,000 below where we are today. You, the members of SHRM now better that anyone else what that means: 5,000 rejections and denials of CW applications. Businesses closing. The economy a wreck.

“Please. Now — more than ever — it is the time for us all to work together.”

Source: Marianas Variety : http://www.mvariety.com/cnmi/cnmi-news/local/101799-kilili-we-need-to-work-together

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