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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center

With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

CNMI To Benefit From U.S. Immigration Reform Bill
Inos: improved status for nonresidents will help territory

By Emmanuel T. Erediano

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, April 19, 2013) – The comprehensive immigration-reform bill introduced in the U.S. Senate will be good for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands economy because it allows businesses to get the workforce they need, according to Governor Eloy S. Inos.

In an interview yesterday, Inos said his administration is happy about the measure’s progress in the U.S. Congress.

"We support the effort of [U.S. senators] to find a better and more efficient way to manage the issues involving undocumented people in the U.S.," Inos added.

He said his administration is also grateful for the fact that the CNMI is included in the federal legislation.

"We hope that our delegate will continue to work and collaborate with other members of Congress so that we can achieve the desired goal which is to allow for an eventual pathway to citizenship [for qualified nonresidents]," the governor said.

He said this will be good for the local economy "because what it does is it allows… businesses to continue to operate here and addresses the issue of potential labor shortages."

The commonwealth has just begun developing its own workforce and will continue to do so "notwithstanding the issue with the nonresident workers."

Granting qualified nonresidents improved immigration status, he added, will give the commonwealth breathing time to train and educate more local workers and businesses can have the transition period they need, especially in the area of tourism.

Inos said he understands how contentious immigration issues are in the U.S. Congress. But he acknowledged the "very instrumental role" that U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan has played to make sure that there is language in the immigration reform measure that will benefit the CNMI.

"So far we have been successful in that area," Inos added.

Indigenous Affairs Director Ignacio Demapan said that although he would prefer local control over immigration, he accepts the fact that the CNMI lacks the manpower that is an important component of the economy.

"We lack the manpower. And there are many guest workers who have been here for a very long time and consider this island their home," he said.

"I do not want to deprive them of the opportunity to improve their status, but I also would like to see more employment for our indigenous community," Demapan said.

Department of Labor Employment Services Director Alfred Pangelinan said it would be nice to have more U.S. eligible workers employed in the private sector because "a lot of them have no jobs."

But, he added, "I am also sensitive to the situation of foreign nationals who have contributed positively to our economy. These are people who have made changes in the CNMI. They deserve good treatment, but not all of them because there are some who are liabilities."

Acting Senate President Victor B. Hocog, R-Rota, said he supports granting improved status to nonresident workers who have been here for 10 years.

Hocog said most of the long-term nonresidents here have U.S. citizen children, some of whom are serving in the U.S. military.

Hocog also believes that in order for the economy to recover, we have to have an ample population to spur more economic activity.

Rep. Christopher D. Leon Guerrero, Covenant-Saipan, said he supports improved status for qualified guest workers because they contribute to the CNMI economy. If nonresidents are more certain about their status in the CNMI, they may be inclined to spend more of their money here instead of sending it off island, he added.

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