[Note: Press Presentation By Howard P. Willens, Esq.]
January 26, 2008
SUMMARY OF COMMONWEALTH POSITION REGARDING
THE TRANSITION PROGRAM UNDER H.R. 3079
1. The provisions of H.R. 3079 relating to the transition program mandated by the legislation must be interpreted in light of their language, objective, and legislative history – including the earlier bills on the subject considered by the Senate in 1998-2000.
2. The consistent objective of these bills has been to establish a process for reducing the Commonwealth’s reliance on temporary nonimmigrant foreign workers and to require that the CNMI employ only U.S. citizens, freely associated state citizens, or workers admitted on an immigrant basis into the Commonwealth.
3. H.R. 3079 prohibits the CNMI from increasing the number of temporary nonimmigrant foreign workers in the Commonwealth (currently about 19,000) after the enactment of the legislation.
4. Nonimmigrant foreign workers lawfully working in the Commonwealth may remain to the conclusion of their contracts in place on the effective date of the transition program but no longer than two years after that date – which may be either one year or 18 months after the enactment of the legislation.
5. The transition period under the bill applies to all temporary nonimmigrant foreign workers in the CNMI unless otherwise entitled to be in the Commonwealth under one of the exceptions provided by the Immigration and Nationality Act for workers who enter under treaties with the United States, freely associated state citizens, or those covered by one of the many specialized provisions in the Immigration and Nationality Act (business visitors, exchange visitors, employees of international concerns, etc.) All foreign workers admitted in the Commonwealth’s 706K immigration category are temporary nonimmigrant workers who do not fall within any of the exceptions under the federal statute.
6. The permit system under the transition program therefore covers both the foreign workers currently in the CNMI and any person who may be issued an H visa during the transition period under the provisions of H.R. 3079.
7. H.R. 3079 permits an alien to apply for a H-1B or H-2B visa to enter the CNMI during the transition period without regard to the national caps on the numbers of such visas. Guam is given an exemption from these caps of indefinite duration. With respect to the Commonwealth, the exemption from the national caps does not authorize the admission of nonimmigrant foreign workers into the CNMI during the transition period outside of the permit system implemented by the federal officials under H.R. 3079.
8. H.R. 3079 eliminated the three alternative means for supplementing the local workforce of US and freely associated citizens contained in earlier versions of the bill – family sponsored immigrants, employment based immigrants, and a “grandfather” provision for long term foreign workers in the Commonwealth.
9. Under the permit system, each temporary nonimmigrant foreign worker employed in the CNMI must fill a position for which his or her employer has obtained a permit from the federal officials.
10. The federal officials are given broad discretion for developing and implementing the permit system under H.R. 3079. This will necessarily involve decisions affecting industries (and companies within industries) differently – with increasingly intense competition for the reduced number of foreign workers available each year under the transition program.
11. According to H.R. 3079, the permit system must operate to reduce the number of permits – and therefore the number of nonimmigrant foreign workers – in the CNMI to ZERO by the end of 2013. This very short time for reaching zero is four years earlier than the deadline provided in any earlier version of the legislation.
12. The bill does provide for one or more extensions – of up to five years – of the transition period. The Secretary of Labor is given the authority to grant such an extension after consultation with other federal officials and the Commonwealth. Such extensions are wholly within the discretion of the federal officials and no assumptions can be responsibly made as to when an extension might be requested or granted. Extensions would still require a reduction to zero but would probably allow smaller reductions each year during the extended transition period.
13. On the effective date of the transition period H.R. 3079 preempts all CNMI immigration laws and most, if not all, of the Commonwealth’s labor laws. This will remove all employer and Commonwealth Government benefits for foreign workers in the CNMI.
14. The fees to be charged by federal officials administering the transition program are certain to be substantially higher than those currently charged under CNMI laws. H.R. 3079, if enacted, would deny the Commonwealth its right under the Covenant to seek the return (or cover over) of the immigration fees from the federal government.
Howard P. Willens
Special Legal Counsel