05 Jan 2018
- By Cherrie Anne E. Villahermosa – [email protected] – Variety News Staff
A MEMBER of the House minority bloc urged a business group advocating for workforce issues to put politics aside and work with all CNMI officials to resolve the islands’ labor shortage.
During a meeting in the House chamber on Thursday, Rep. Edwin Propst told the Northern Marianas Island Business Alliance Corp. that he is willing to work with the business group, adding that they all have a common goal regardless of their political affiliations.
He said instead of finger-pointing, they should all speak with one voice as they seek U.S. congressional relief in Washington D.C.
Propst said the business group must improve its information campaign and the collection of data to justify its efforts, further educate the community and make sure that the right message is delivered to Washington, D.C.
NMBAC president Alex Sablan said their group is non-political and that resolving the islands’ workforce crisis “is everyone’s business.”
Viola Alepuyo, also of NMBAC, said they are dealing with an economic and not an immigration issue.
She said several years ago, there was no discussion about the workforce because the economy was declining and companies were shedding employees. Back then, there was also talk about granting improved immigration status to qualified long-term guest workers.
“In 2009 we basically had no economy, and everything was declining. Nothing was done because nothing needed to be done at that time. Yes, we agree that this should be a bipartisan effort and we must put politics aside. We don’t have time to play politics. This is about our people, this is about protecting our economy, and the only way to protect our economy is to protect our workforce,” she said.
Sablan and Alepuyo met with lawmakers on Thursday to update them about NMBAC’s recent lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C. to increase in the CW cap and extend the CW program which will end in Dec. 2019.
According to Sen. Sixto Igisomar, “We should ask the U.S. Congress to give us some kind of a visa that will work for our CNMI so we can take care of our issues here…. I don’t think 18,000 is the right [CW cap] number. We should tell the U.S. Congress not to give us a limit at all. We want it to be unlimited based on our needs.”
Sen. Paul A. Manglona urged the business group to continue to work with the Legislature so its members can assist the group in finding solutions.
More businesses losing key employees
Rep. Angel Demapan said as of 8 a.m. on Thursday, several companies had informed the CNMI Department of Labor that they were losing key employees in fiscal year 2018. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has reduced the FY 2018 CW cap to 9,998 from 12,998 despite the CNMI’s request to cut it by just one.
“Ten companies called and informed CNMI DOL that they will be losing half of their employees,” Demapan said. “I don’t think we should ignore this. This is something that needs to be pressed upon the federal government, with USCIS. We can take steps, we can negotiate — we can ask for inclusion in the federal job training program. This is now beyond the issue of construction workers.”
In a statement, the CNMI Department of Labor said it is requesting that businesses report recent CW-1 visa non-renewals.
“We are compiling the data to demonstrate the impact of the CW permit denials, in terms of how business revenue is affected, what the businesses are doing to mitigate the loss of their CW employees, and any other information having to do with the CW program,” Labor Secretary Vicky I. Benavente said. (See related story on page 10)
No plan B
NMBAC’s Alex Sablan said there is no plan B as of this time. It’s either they get an extension of the CW program or nothing, he added.
In an interview, he said U.S. lawmakers they met in Washington, D.C. agreed to four of the provisions that NMBAC is recommending for inclusion in U.S. legislation that will amend the federalization law.
“They agreed that an extension is needed, that is one; second that the 9,998 [CW cap] is far too low but they did not agree to an 18,000 cap so we are assuming that it is going to be between 12,998 and 18,000. The prevailing wage is another provision that they are now seriously looking into. They agree that it should be instituted in the CW program; and lastly the shared information on our CW numbers. We should be sharing this information to make sure that our U.S. citizens are placed into the workforce and are the priority hires based on the law.”
Sablan said they also asked that the CNMI Department of Labor “get the same access that Guam has when it comes to processing workers — we want that discretion; we want CNMI Labor to be part of that process to make sure we are filling jobs with U.S. citizens first.”
Sablan said it is important that the CNMI workforce issue is resolved soon. “There are ongoing major projects and a lot of properties are now for sale. We are getting inquiries almost every day regarding these major development projects. I think some are now trying to get out because there’s concern for what the future holds. This is also our concern. People are serious about coming here to invest, but the uncertainty about the CW program is impeding their ability to pursue their projects.”
Source: Marianas Variety : http://www.mvariety.com/cnmi/cnmi-news/local/101278-put-politics-aside-2018-01-05