NMI business group proposes amendments to workforce law

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THE Northern Marianas Business Alliance Corp. or NMBAC joined Lt. Gov. Arnold I. Palacios in Washington, D.C. two weeks ago and met with U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan and other federal officials to discuss CNMI workforce issues, including proposed amendments to the Northern Mariana Islands U.S. Workforce Act of 2018.

Saipan Chamber of Commerce president Velma Palacios, who represents her group in the NMBAC, informed human resource representatives on Thursday that they met with U.S. lawmakers and other federal officials who have authority over CNMI immigration and labor.

“We are very thankful to our congressman, Kilili, for meeting with us and the lt. governor,” Palacios said. “We shared with them our proposed amendments to NMI Workforce Act, which basically affects a lot of local businesses.”

Lt. Gov. Palacios described the meeting with Kilili as “very productive.”

Velma Palacios said Kilili was willing to assist them “so it was a great meeting because I think in this time of economic crisis we all need to work together — we all need to collaborate, and besides the [other] things happening here at home, we still have to work on our workforce issues.”

In Washington, D.C., she said they “met with agencies and Senate committees to let them know that we are really struggling here.”

She said with the passage of Kilili’s H.R. 560 in the U.S. House of Representatives, NMBAC’s focus now is on the U.S. Senate.

“We feel that Kilili has been doing a great job in the [U.S.] House,” the chamber president said.

H.R. 560, which now heads to the U.S. Senate, would grant permanent status in the Northern Marianas only to foreign investors originally admitted to the Commonwealth under local immigration law, and to a small group of foreign workers, some of whom have been in the CNMI for 40 years.

For her part, attorney Catherine Cachero who represents the Society of Human Resource Management-NMI chapter in the NMBAC, encourages employers whose workers will benefit from H.R. 560 to write in support of the measure.

She said Kilili’s office has also expressed willingness to work with businesses and individuals in following up on any pending CW applications, as well as those applying for long-term status as provided for in Public Law 116-24 or the NMI Long-Term Legal Residents Relief Act.

NMBAC’s proposed changes to the NMI Workforce Act, which extended the CW program until Dec. 31, 2029, include:

1) An amendment to the labor certification requirement to give the CNMI the authority to certify labor requirements locally.

2) An amendment to the prevailing wage requirement to have the survey conducted every two years, instead of annually and to base the prevailing wage determination on the arithmetic mean of wages within the two-year period prior to the submission of a request for foreign workers, and allow CNMI Labor to determine appropriate wage level similar to Guam Department of Labor.

3) An amendment to the numerical limits for CW-1 to remove the numerical caps and allow the numerical limits to fluctuate in accordance with the labor demands of the CNMI economy, and the labor demands determination to be coordinated with the CNMI governor.

4) An amendment to the exclusion of construction workers from CW permits, to allow CW-1 permits for construction workers to assist in growing the economy, to address the need for construction workers for local construction needs.

5) An amendment to eliminate the requirement for CW-1 holders to depart the CNMI for 30 days prior to submission of their third renewal petition. This requirement has detrimental effects on the CNMI economy, the NMBAC said.

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