Administration, chamber thank and commend Kilili

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THE administration and the Saipan Chamber of Commerce thanked and commended U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan for the passage on Wednesday of his bill, H.R. 560, in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan

Kilili said his bill would grant permanent status in the Northern Marianas to foreign investors originally admitted to the Commonwealth under local immigration law. “The same status would be available to a small group of foreign workers, some of whom have been in the Marianas for 40 years,” Kilili told the House during the debate on his bill.

H.R. 560, which Kilili said passed the House by voice vote under rules that require a two-thirds majority of support, now goes to the U.S. Senate.

In a statement, Lt. Gov. Arnold I. Palacios the bill’s passage “is positive news for our Commonwealth, and we thank and commend Congressman Sablan, Ranking Member Rob Bishop, and the U.S. House for passing this important legislation that will help stabilize our economy and workforce, while providing stable relief for the many families and individuals who have called these islands home.”

Palacios added, “Governor Torres and I have supported this initiative from the very beginning, as it was a vital part of our 902 consultations over the last several years to alleviate our workforce concerns and strengthen the viability of our island economy. We have made our case with both the White House and Congress about this issue, and we are thankful to the leadership we have met over the years that have learned to understand the CNMI’s issues within its economy.”

Palacios said the legislation would “allow…qualified individuals to not be counted towards the CW cap, which allows us to bring in additional workforce to assist in rebuilding our homes and schools, while building new businesses to contribute to our economic development.”

“Most importantly,” he said, “we are happy for the families and individuals qualified under this bill. It is another step forward, and we will support passage in the U.S. Senate through our communications and partnerships with [its] Republican leaders.”

In a separate letter, the Saipan Chamber of Commerce congratulated Kilili on the passage of H.R. 560 in the U.S. House.

“Long-term legal residents have played an integral role in growing and shaping our Commonwealth,” the chamber said. “A situation unique due to our historical relationship with the United States, our workers, families, and community needs a permanent solution to an issue that has created an unstable workforce and overall economy.”

The chamber said Kilili’s bill is “a positive step in resolving our community’s need for stability. As we continue to rebuild our economy after multiple catastrophic typhoons, fluctuations in industries, and most especially now with the collapse of our economy due to the coronavirus outbreak, the Commonwealth has a dire need for a solution for our long-term workers and investors. Their experiences, proven work records, and investments are an asset to our companies, our industries, and our islands. Most importantly, the solutions outlined in this bill would provide an avenue for existing investors and foreign workers to remain in the Commonwealth while not compromising our border security.”

In a statement, Congressman Kilili said he was “very grateful to Chairman Raúl Grijalva and Ranking Member Rob Bishop, who both are cosponsors of H.R. 560. Bipartisan support was essential for passage in the House…and will be essential, as well, for passage in the Senate.”

He said he has been working since he first came into office in 2009 to make the transition from local to federal control of immigration in the Northern Marianas as least difficult as possible. Federal law extending control was enacted in 2009.

In 2018, Kilili drafted and introduced the U.S. Workforce Act, which he said aims to protect the rights of U.S. workers against unfair competition from foreign workers in the CNMI economy. President Trump signed the bill, which became Public Law 115-218.

Last year, President Trump signed Kilili’s Long-term Residents Relief Act, Public Law 116-24.

Kilili said the Act converts about 1,000 people living under administrative parole into residents with a permanent, legal status in the Northern Marianas.

“Just last week, the [Trump] Administration issued the necessary guidance to allow those 1,000 people to begin the application process,” Kilili said.

He added that H.R. 560 provides the same permanent status — in the Northern Marianas only — that President Trump previously approved for the parolees.

“This time two additional groups are covered. The first are investors who had been lawfully admitted to the Marianas under local law before federal immigration was extended [here]. They have been holding on with short-term visas ever since, never certain from year to year about their business investments.

“The second group, long-term workers, was defined in the U.S. Workforce Act and designated in that law for special treatment to provide more certainty to their employers and help stabilize the economy.”

Kilili said as vice chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee responsible for insular issues, held a hearing on H.R. 560 in February 2019 during which Governor Torres testified in favor of the bill.

Kilili said the Trump administration witness, though not taking a position on the specifics, noted that “without a sustained labor force, projected investment in the CNMI likely will wither.”

“H.R. 560 should go a long way to maintaining an adequate number of workers in the Marianas economy,” Kilili said on Wednesday.

“The workers covered are people [on whom] their employers’ businesses have come to rely through years of service. They are people with skills that our economy needs.

“And the investors covered by my bill originally put their trust in the Marianas and in Marianas immigration law. They have held on now for over a decade and I think giving them permanent status will encourage them to invest even more, something our economy really needs right now.”

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