A means to address the labor demands of the Marianas region was one of the recommendations in the final 902 talks report that was submitted to congressional leaders last week. It is hoped that Congress would then take the necessary action on the concerns submitted.
According to the report, which was backed by both special representatives in the 902 panel—federal and CNMI government—they support some leeway on certain immigration policies as a means to address the region’s anticipated workforce shortage.
Recommendation No. 4 states: “The [special representatives] support [United States] Congress’ consideration of extending and expanding existing immigration policies or developing new policies to address systemic regional workforce challenges currently being experienced in both Guam and the CNMI.”
Former Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas Esther Kia’aina was appointed as the federal government’s special representative in the 902 talks, with Gov. Ralph DLG Torres leading the CNMI side.
Other ranking officials from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, U.S. Department of Defense, CNMI departments of Public Land and Labor, and CNMI Legislature were support members of each group.
Both Kia’aina and Torres were united in saying that Congress recognizes the need for the inclusion of three provisions—a regional approach—in the Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008 that would focus on the CNMI and Guam.
Exemption from numerical limitations for H-visa category, as stated in Section 214 (g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, is the first provision.
The labor shortage is anticipated due to the planned military buildup in Guam that is expected to spill over to the CNMI. The Commonwealth also has its own with the Tinian Divert Airfield project.
“Although the provision helps meet the anticipated labor demands of the planned U.S. military buildup in Guam, the practical need for such an exception is grounded in much more long-term and innate characteristics of the region,” as stated on the report.
The second provision is the CNRA recognizing the region’s unique circumstances and needs.
“This would allow the CNMI and Guam’s governors to request the Department of Homeland Security’s secretary of studying the feasibility of establishing additional CNMI- and Guam-only nonimmigrant visas.
“[These] are not provided for under current immigration law. Although this provision excludes employment purposes, it recognizes that the special needs of the region give rise to unique circumstances that may need to be accommodated,” according to Recommendation No. 4.
Establishing a CNMI and Guam Visa Waiver Program is the last of the three, a provision that is separate but similar to the rest of mainland U.S. Under the program, visitors can stay for a maximum of 45 days.
“[It] includes other countries that provides the region with significant economic benefit. This is a further reminder of the CNMI’s geographic distance from Hawaii and the U.S. continent, its location in the Asia-Pacific region, and its unique needs and challenges given as factors.”