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    Saturday, March 24, 2018-7:39:56A.M.






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Editorials 2017-December-15

About the Settlement Fund

THE Settlement Fund was created by the federal court to help address an over $700 million problem. Replacing the trustee will not make that problem go away.

No doubt legal action was warranted against a contractor who was supposed to create a $400,000 pension software system for the Retirement Fund in 2008. But why did it take the Retirement Fund four years to file a lawsuit? And why should the trustee be blamed for the CNMI government’s apparent failure to pursue the case?

It is, however, valid to ask if the Settlement Fund is indeed operating efficiently. (It’s a question that could be asked of any government agency or department for that matter). It is also a good thing that retirees have remained vigilant: asking questions, demanding answers, and pushing the Fund to be more responsive.

Not asking much

NO other issue can have such an immediate and damaging impact on the local economy as the large cut to the nonresident workforce ordered by the U.S. government. Only the willfully uninformed would insist that thousands of jobs could be filled quickly by U.S. qualified workers. If that were true, USCIS would not have approved CW-1 permits in the first place. We are talking about specific jobs, many of which require specialized skills and experience. The U.S. has a population of over 300 million, over 40 million of whom are on food stamps. The U.S. jobless rate as of November was 4.1 percent (it was 10 percent in Oct. 2009). So why are U.S. employers, who pay high wages, still hiring foreign workers for certain jobs?

Some say CNMI employers should resort to H or other visa applications for their nonresident workers. But many CNMI employers are already submitting such applications and, as they and their lawyers can attest, it’s not that easy. The contractors on neighboring Guam have taken USCIS to court for rejecting most, if not all, of their H-2B applications.

Large and medium-size companies in the CNMI such as engineering firms, major hotels, the casino and big retail operations can avail themselves of H or other visas because they can afford the application fees and hike in wages commensurate with those offered in the U.S. Unfortunately, not every company on island can make that switch, and these are the businesses that should be allowed to apply for the limited number of CW permits now in play. These include those in the refuse collection business, computer repair, auto-repair shops, print shops, health and beauty salons, tailor shops, housekeeping services, caretakers, construction companies and many other small businesses, sight unseen, that are making island life easier, less costly and more convenient on a daily and continuous basis.

In the end, the CNMI is merely asking federal permission to retain the workforce it already has, and to be allowed to hire more, if needed, but subject to U.S. approval and under U.S. immigration and wage laws.