Senators discuss workforce issues

SENATORS on Thursday discussed the islands’ workforce crisis and what else could be done to get U.S. congressional relief.

Current U.S. law must be amended to extend the CW program, which will end in Dec. 2019, and to increase the CW cap which was reduced by 3,000 or to 9,998 in fiscal year 2018 by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Sen. Sixto Igisomar said many guest workers affected by the cap have young dependents who are U.S. citizens.

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Sen. Sixto Igisomar, right, speaks during a Senate session on Thursday.  Photo by Cherrie Anne E. VillahermosaSen. Sixto Igisomar, right, speaks during a Senate session on Thursday. Photo by Cherrie Anne E. Villahermosa

He said some of these workers have been calling his office and asking for guidance.

“We must provide them with some guidance on what to do next. Should they go to the CNMI Department of Labor? Who is responsible for these workers when they are out of status? What if they don’t have means to leave the island? What if they cannot just go back to their countries where there’s nothing waiting for them because they have spent half of their lives here and their families are here. We need to assist them somehow.”

Igisomar said the Torres administration continues to work “very hard” to resolve the CW issue which can only be addressed by the federal government.

Sen. Jude Hofschneider said the governor is hoping to see a draft bill that could be introduced in the U.S. Congress “very soon.”

Sen. Paul A. Manglona said the CNMI Senate should also take an active role in knocking on the doors of U.S. lawmakers and in educating federal officials about the CNMI’s situation.

He said they must meet with U.S. congressmen and -women, U.S. senators, USCIS and White House officials to make sure that the CNMI’s concerns are heard and addressed.

In the CNMI, he said they should ask the local Department of Labor to post information on its website that will provide guidance to the affected nonresident workers.

Acting Senate President Steve Mesngon said the CNMI Legislature should maintain its unified position with the administration regarding the CW issue.

In an interview, Igisomar said the CNMI government and the business community will also continue working together to bring more locals and other U.S. citizens into the private-sector workforce.