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New Legislation Affects Availability of CMNI Visas

usa-tourist-visa-300x169On August 22nd, 2017, President Trump signed the Northern Mariana Islands Economic Expansion Act (H.R 339), which revises the CW-1 visa classification for Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) transitional workers. Changes under the act include an increase in the number of visas available for certain occupations, new restrictions for construction workers, and fee increases.

The Northern Mariana Islands are a commonwealth of the United States located in the Pacific Ocean.

CW-1 visa’s allow employers in the CNMI to apply for permission to employ foreign workers who would otherwise be ineligible to work under other nonimmigrant worker categories, like an employment-based green card. A foreign worker is classified as a CW-1 nonimmigrant during the transitional period if they stay in the CNMI to work in an occupational category designated as needing foreign workers to supplement the existing resident workforce due to labor shortages.

What These New Changes Mean

The legislation adds 350 new CW-1 visas, which are exclusively available for current CW-1 workers looking to extend their status. 60 of these new visas are reserved for healthcare practitioners and technical occupations, and 10 are reserved for plant and system operators.

The biggest change affecting foreign workers is that CW-1 visas will no longer be available for construction and extraction jobs. Only construction workers who have maintained continuous CW-1 status for the same employer since before October 1st, 2015 will continue to be eligible for CW-1 visas, and the fee for employers hiring foreign workers will increase from $150 to $200 per individual annually.

CW-1 visas will no longer be available to new foreign workers seeking employment in these types of positions. Instead, employers will have to use H-2B visas for new construction workers, which means that they can only be hired temporarily for one-time projects, seasonal work and/or on an intermittent basis. This is to try and curtail the influx of cheap Chinese labor that has been driving down wages in the construction industry.

Applications received after August 22nd, 2017 with insufficient information or incorrect fee payments will be rejected.

How These New Changes Will Impact the CNMI Economy

Forty-five percent of the CNMI’s labor force is comprised of foreign workers, and many fear that some of these changes will have a significant impact on the economy. The island chain currently has 22 new projects in planning, including new hotels and casinos. Since it will be more difficult for those working in the construction industry to maintain consistent and steady work, it may be difficult to meet these types of labor demands. This, in turn, would make construction projects more difficult to complete.

Jobs in hospitals and other types of service occupations will do fare well under the expansion of CW-1 visas, however, since there’s a severe labor shortage and more people are needed to properly meet the needs of the residents of the Northern Mariana Islands.
While these changes are taking place thousands of miles away from Texas, it’s still important to monitor how the Trump administration is addressing work visa’s, since his campaign promise of “Make America Great Again” leaves the future of work visa’s uncertain. If you or a loved one is presently in the United States on a work visa, and would like to explore options of how you can gain permanent US citizenship, contact Lyttle Law Firm today.