‘Void of skilled labor’ when visa period expires raises concerns
SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, June 27, 2012) – The Saipan Chamber of Commerce recommends another five-year extension of the federalization transition to prevent the loss of the islands’ human resources and save the ailing Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands’ (CNMI) economy.
The recommendation was based on a poll conducted among the chamber members in response to the request of the U.S. Government Accountability Office that they comment on any "uncertainty" they are facing as a result of the federalization of Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) immigration.
Chamber members believe that if an additional transition period were not to be granted, existing businesses would no longer be able to secure Commonwealth-only worker (CW-1) visas past Nov. 2014 for foreign national workers, and there would be a corresponding void of skilled labor no longer available thereafter within the commonwealth for businesses and essential services.
The transition period ends on Dec. 31, 2014.
Chamber president Douglas Brennan said regardless of the eventual date, the CNMI economy will suffer as a result of loss in human resources.
He said chamber members were "overwhelmingly consistent in attesting to the…uncertainty created with the approaching date…when all CW-1 visa holders would be ‘zeroed out,’ and companies employing CW-1 applicants in skilled positions would not be able to easily locate qualified replacements."
The chamber maintains that CW-1 visa holders have "an enormous position range in the CNMI — positions in management, business and finance, computer and math, engineering and architectural technicians, legal and educational occupations, entertainment, healthcare support, protective services, food preparation, maintenance, sales, office administration, farming and fishing, installation and repair, automotive, production and transportation — all part of the 11,739 CW-1 visa applications [U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services] received for CNMI employers."
The chamber said its members believe that "the CNMI has been, and will continue to be, dependent upon foreign national employees to supplement the small numbers of U.S. local potential hires" in the commonwealth.
"This is in addition to the fact that there isn’t much training available in the CNMI for technical positions, which means the dependence will continue until a change in education evolves," the chamber added.
It noted that local employees leave the island for greener pastures once trained or after receiving their formal education.
The chamber said in the past five years, operations shrunk and the business customer base has decreased by over 25 percent.
At the end of the current transition period, without CW-1 visas, the economic meltdown will worsen, it added.
According to the chamber, "a startling example of the disruption that would be caused when CW-1 visas are eliminated would be in the case of the Commonwealth Healthcare Center [once] those CW-1 visas were no longer available."
CHC has a little over 100 nurses, and 90 percent of those nurses have been applied for CW-1 visas. None of those applications from the CHC have been processed and/or issued yet.
If those CW-1 visas were no longer available the hospital could not function and would stop serving those needing medical services, the chamber said.
CHC has the only real operating rooms in the CNMI. "Without nurses and attendants, everything stops," the chamber said.
If the U.S. Labor Department recommends ending the transition in 2014, a potential health threatening situation would unfold, the chamber added.
"It is also fair to say that without a functioning public healthcare center available for companies and their employees, CNMI residents would suffer. Further, future investment, the chamber’s sought-after retirement visa program and other new economic possibilities, are severely threatened with this healthcare ‘uncertainty’ that will surely occur should the transition period not be extended," the chamber said.
Published at the Marianas Variety and Pacific Pacific Islands Report