19 Sep 2019

CNMI facing worker shortage crisis

4:48 pm on 19 September 2019

Complex new immigration processes in the Northern Marianas could lead to the loss of as many as 9000 guest workers by the end of the month.

Construction workers rally outside the Department of Labor offices

Construction workers rally outside the Department of Labor offices Photo: RNZ Pacific / Mark Rabago

30 September is the end of the financial when foreign workers whose permits are not valid for the coming year will become ineligible to stay.

The lack of foreign worker permits is being blamed on companies filing late applications and on complex new bureaucracy.

The Northern Marianas extended its non-migrant foreign worker or CW programme last year but the previous one-step process has become a cumbersome six-step affair.

As well, there are now two federal agencies involved in processing worker permits.

The US Department of Labor is now involved to ensure that no US eligible worker is excluded, while the US Citizenship and Immigration Service remains the agency which approves permits.

Compounding matters, there's been a hold-up in the Prevailing Wage Survey, a requirement of the CW programme, leading companies to delay applications for workers' permits.

The Saipan Chamber of Commerce warned that dozens of its members were mulling shutdowns because of a potential lack of manpower.

Businesses which choose to keep operating will face challenges with the potential loss of thousands of consumers and consequent decrease in sales.

The mass exodus of guest workers may also lead to a humanitarian crisis with families potentially being separated as parents leave their US citizen children behind to continue their schooling.

Many guest workers have called the CNMI home for years with their children knowing nowhere else.