Wolfsdorf Rosenthal LLP

DHS Announces Annual Limit for CNMI Transitional Workers


The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced on September 2, 2016, that the numerical limitation for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI)-Only Transitional Worker (CW-1) nonimmigrant classification for fiscal year (FY) 2017 (October 1, 2016, through September 30, 2017) is set at 12,998.

The notice (PDF) announces the mandated annual reduction of the CW-1 numerical limitation and provides additional information about the new CW-1 numerical limit. 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 CW program is in effect until December 31, 2019.

DHS said it reduced the FY 2017 CW-1 cap by one to meet the CNMI’s existing labor market needs and provide opportunity for potential growth, while meeting a statutory requirement to reduce the cap each year. Because the cap was reached for FY 2016 on May 5, 2016, DHS decided “to preserve the status quo, or current conditions, rather than aggressively reduce CW-1 numbers for FY 2017.” The agency encourages CW-1 employers to file a petition for a CW-1 nonimmigrant worker as early as possible within 6 months of the proposed start date of employment. USCIS said it will reject a petition if it is filed more than 6 months in advance.

DHS reminded CNMI employers that the CW-1 program requires that the foreign worker be ineligible for any other employment-based nonimmigrant visa classification under U.S. immigration law, such as the H-2B classification for temporary or seasonal workers and the H-1B classification for workers in a specialty occupation. DHS urged CNMI employers to reevaluate whether their employees are eligible for any other existing employment-based

nonimmigrant category and, if so, to use other U.S. nonimmigrant classifications when appropriate. For workers employed in the CNMI, there is no cap on H-2B or H-1B visas during the transition period ending December 31, 2019.

The announcement does not affect the status of current CW-1 workers unless their employer files for an extension of their current authorized period of stay. Approved petitions with an employment start date between October 1, 2016, and September 30, 2017, will generally count toward the 12,998 cap. The cap applies only to CW-1 principals. It does not directly affect anyone currently holding CW-2 status, which is for spouses and minor children of CW-1 nonimmigrants. However, CW-2 nonimmigrants may be indirectly affected because their status depends upon that of the principal CW-1.

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