Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Clarification on Federal Takeover Bill

Letter to the Editor: Clarification on federal takeover bill
CNMI Editorials
The Marianas Variety

Tuesday February 12, 2008

MR. Howard Willens asked me to respond to the letter from the communications director of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee published in the Variety on Feb. 8, 2008. Mr. Willens is still waiting for a written response from a committee lawyer to his detailed analysis of the plain meaning of H.R. 3079.

It is clear that Mr. Wicker does not understand H.R. 3079. It establishes a permit system under which each employer in the commonwealth must have a permit in order to hire a nonimmigrant foreign worker. It does not matter whether the foreign worker is presently in the CNMI or enters under the H visa program. He or she cannot get a job unless the employer has a permit to hire a foreign worker for the particular job. Under the current bill, these permits must be reduced to zero by Dec. 31, 2013. If there is no extension of the transition period, the law would require the departure of more than 19,000 foreign workers currently working here.

Mr. Wicker’s lack of familiarity with the legislation is also made clear by his suggestion that, after the termination of the transition period, “the nonimmigrant worker program under the INA will continue indefinitely, along with all of the provisions of the U.S. immigration laws.” He seems to forget that by that time the CNMI will be subject to the national caps on H-1B and H-2B visas. If they are allocated proportionally to population, that will entitled the commonwealth to ten or fewer workers in each category, which would clearly fall far short of CNMI’s labor needs.

Mr. Wicker’s letter, however, did provide some new information. The Senate committee has finally decided to write a committee report regarding its recommendation that the Senate pass H.R. 3079. When the committee decided last December to bundle this “non-controversial” bill with 50 or more other bills from the House of Representatives, there was no suggestion that the committee would file a report explaining its action. Why is the committee asking the full Senate to vote on a bill any day now without any explanation from the committee as to what the bill means and what will be its impact on the commonwealth’s economy, citizens, and foreign workers?

Why should we be surprised? This is the same committee that endorsed a bill based on the facts of 10 years ago, when Allen Stayman was in the Clinton administration, rather than the situation existing today in the commonwealth. This is the same committee that requested a report from the Government Accountability Office and then refused to defer action until the GAO completed its work — now only a few months away. This is the same committee that endorsed a House bill that is substantially different from the version considered by the committee at its hearings in July 2007, without pausing to evaluate the changes made by the House of Representatives or asking for comments from the commonwealth.


Gualo Rai, Saipan

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