VIDEO: GAO – CNMI Remains Dependent on Foreign Workers, Despite Decline in Their Numbers

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Washington D.C. – Congress’s investigative arm, the General Accountability Office [GAO] is out with its second report on the CNMI transitional worker program.

The GAO says that as of last July, the Department of  Homeland Security had processed about half the work permit petitions employers submitted in Fiscal  Year 2012.

HEAR Matt Kaye’s report HERE>>>10-01 gaotransworkerrpt.mp3

But still pending and due September, were a DHS decision on its Fiscal ’13 permit allocation, and a Labor Department decision on whether to extend the foreign worker transition period.

GAO says Labor is not required to decide until July 2014.

The Agency is looking at multiple data sources on the CNMI labor market and, according to the GAO, has figured out the methodology it plans to use.

DHS has not made public its data or methods, which GAO says could “help allay any public uncertainty,” on future access to foreign workers.

Lead GAO author, David Gutnick: “The core observation in this report is that, since the U.S. applied federal immigration law to the CNMI in 2009, the economy does remain dependent on foreign workers, despite their declining numbers.  DHS’s permit allocation of 22,400, is in line with the Governor’s original request of the level of permits, and it exceeds, by a wide margin, the number of worker permits sought by employers in the CNMI.”

The report adds, that uncertainty about pending DHS and labor department decisions “may be limiting business investment in the CNMI.”
It says foreign workers made up more than half of the CNMI workforce in 2012 and local business reported challenges in finding replacements for foreign workers. 

Some local businesses told the GAO, uncertainty over pending federal actions has caused them to “limit their plans” for future investments in the Commonwealth.

The Interior Department and DHS have spent some $6.5 million to train workers in the NMI in Fiscal ’10 through ’12. And DHS has transferred to the CNMI Treasury as of July, about $1.8 million collected through its permit program for NMI vocational curricula. 

GAO recommends the Secretary of Homeland Security release its methodology when it announces its permit allocation.   DHS has agreed to do so.