Wolfsdorf Rosenthal LLP

Labor Dept. Extends Transitional Worker Program for Northern Marianas


On June 3, 2014, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) extended the transitional worker program for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) until December 31, 2019.

In 2008, Congress passed the Consolidated Natural Resources Act (CNRA), which applies the immigration laws of the United States to the CNMI. To minimize potential adverse economic effects, the CNRA provides for a five-year transitional worker program, known as the CNMI-Only Transitional Worker (CW-1) program, which ends on December 31, 2014. Under the CW-1 program, employers in the CNMI can apply for temporary permission to employ foreign nationals who are ineligible for any existing employment-based nonimmigrant category under the Immigration and Nationality Act. The CNRA authorizes the Secretary of Labor to extend this transition period for up to five years based on the labor needs of the CNMI to ensure that an adequate number of workers are available for legitimate businesses.

DOL said it will continue to monitor and assess the labor needs of the CNMI, in particular any good-faith efforts to locate, educate, train, or otherwise prepare U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, and unemployed foreign workers already in the CNMI to take jobs in legitimate businesses.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) said it will resume approving CW-1 status in periods of up to one year. There are no changes to the application process or fees for the CW program. Employers must still file Form I-129CW, Petition for a CNMI-Only Nonimmigrant. The timetable for petitioning remains the same: employers may file an I-129CW up to six months in advance. USCIS “encourages employers to file as soon as possible within that time frame to prevent gaps in employment authorization.” USCIS noted that spouses and minor children of CW-1 workers can obtain CW-2 derivative status. DOL’s CW-1 extension also permits USCIS to grant spouses and minor children CW-2 status for the same duration as the principal CW-1 petitioner whose status is extending beyond, or was granted after, December 31, 2014.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) determines the annual numerical limitation on CW-1 workers, as required by the CNRA. DHS set the CW-1 limit for fiscal year (FY) 2014 at 14,000 to meet the CNMI’s existing labor market needs and provide opportunity for potential growth. With DOL’s extension of the CW-1 program, DHS will reassess the CNMI’s labor market needs and opportunity for growth to determine the FY 2015 numerical limitation for ?CW-1 workers.

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