House Resources Committee Okays CNMI Congressman Sablan’s Transition Extension Bill

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Guam – CNMI Congressman Sablan has announced that the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee has approved his bill to extend the current immigration transition period in the Commonwealth for another 5 years.

Even though Labor Secretary Tom Perez announced Tuesday that he is using his executive authority to extend the CW Transitional Worker program by 5 years, Congressman Sablan said he will continue to press for his own CW Extension bills.

He told our Washington Correspondent Matt Kaye this week:  “I do want to continue to urge our government to continue training our people, so that they could take over the work, presently being held by third country nationals, the foreign workers. And also, urge our businesses to start getting serious about giving jobs to U.S. workers”.

The Congressman’s bills would also extend the CW Program for foreign investors,  continue an exemption for caps on ‘H’ Visas for the CNMI and Guam,  and extend the ban on asylum claims in the NMI.

READ the release from Congressman Sablan below:

News Release
May 29, 2014
For Immediate Distribution

Resources committee okays Sablan’s transition extension bill

Washington, D.C. – The House Natural Resources Committee today approved a bill, introduced by Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, that adds five years to the current immigration transition period in the Northern Mariana Islands. Four unique programs, intended to reduce economic harm to the Northern Marianas, would continue until the end of 2019, if Sablan’s bill is eventually signed into law. The Committee approved his bill, H.R. 4296, by unanimous consent.

“I very much appreciate the understanding and assistance of Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings and Dr. John Fleming, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs, who moved my bill swiftly through the hearing and mark-up process,” Sablan said.

Sablan introduced his bill on March 25. Fleming held a hearing one month later. And today Hastings brought the bill before the full Committee for a vote.

Sablan drafted the measure out of concern that two larger omnibus territories bills in the House and Senate, which also extended the transitional programs, were not moving quickly enough.

The Congressman was also concerned that the Secretary of Labor, who had authority to extend one of the four transitional programs, had not taken action and might not be willing to add more time to the Commonwealth-only transitional worker (CW) program. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez did, however, announce his decision to extend the CW program for a full five years on Tuesday this week.

The three remaining programs that would be continued by Sablan’s bill are an exemption from the numerical limit on H visas in Guam and the Northern Marianas, a Commonwealth-only foreign investor (E-2C) program, and a bar on claims of asylum in the Northern Marianas. All three programs are now scheduled to end on December 31, 2014.

“The exemption from the numerical limit on H visas was originally intended to meet the labor needs of the U.S. military buildup,” Sablan explained. “But the buildup has been delayed. And the Defense Department says that a lack of H2-B construction workers would cause further delay at a time when our region is becoming of increasing strategic importance. So, I think it is for the good of our country to extend the H visa exemption.”

The E-2C foreign investor program continues a provision of Northern Marianas immigration law, which allowed non-U.S. citizens to live in the islands if they made a minimum investment of $50,000. “The Commonwealth government decided these investors were economically important and promised them residency,” said Sablan.

“The Commonwealth made a commitment. We told them if they invested they could live here. So, it is only fair to them—and probably better for our economy—to grandfather those investments for another five years.”

The third program that would be extended by Sablan’s bill prevents anyone from claiming political asylum in the United States while in the Northern Marianas. “Public Law 110-229, which gave the federal government the responsibility for immigration in our islands, said it should be done in a way that would expand tourism and economic development, wherever possible. The bar on asylum does that.

“No one can come here and claim political asylum. That gives the Department of Homeland Security more flexibility to allow tourists from China and Russia to enter visa-free. And those tourists now account for 28 percent of total arrivals.

“Just as our economy seems to be improving,” Sablan said, “we do not want to risk losing those Chinese and Russian tourists.”

H.R. 4296 must still win approval from the House Judiciary Committee before it can be taken before the House of Representatives for a vote. After that, the Senate must approve Sablan’s bill.

“We just have to keep working,” the Congressman said today. “But at least it is clear we are making forward progress and building support for keeping these programs in place for another five years.”