SAIPAN – The U.S. Labor Department reported over the weekend to U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan that Northern Marianas employers have been issued temporary labor certifications for 1,841 foreign workers.
Certification from Labor that no U.S. worker is able or available to fill a job is required before employers can apply to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for fiscal year 2020 CW-1 worker permits. The certification count is current as of Aug. 22.
The Labor Department also updated Sablan on how long it takes to process certification applications and on approval rates. The average processing time is 41 days. And 69% of applications are being approved. Only 16% have been denied. The balance of applications were incomplete or withdrawn by the employer.
In total, Labor reported receiving applications for 13,394 CW-1 workers. There are 12,500 CW-1 permits available in FY20.
“I wanted to get this information to the public as soon as I had it, because of the concern in the business community that the Department of Labor is delaying action on the certifications,” Congressman Sablan said.
The labor certification, a requirement of last year’s Northern Mariana Islands U.S. Workforce Act, is intended to protect U.S. workers in the Marianas from unfair competition from foreign labor. The Workforce Act also aims to keep wages for U.S. workers from being driven down by cheaper CW workers.
Business alliance advised delay
On April 4, U.S. Labor opened the application process for employers to request prevailing wage determinations for the jobs they wanted to fill with foreign workers. Determining the typical wage paid for a job is the first step in applying for a temporary labor certification.
But the Northern Marianas Business Alliance Corporation immediately told local employers not to apply and to wait until the Commonwealth government completed a wage survey. Very few applications were submitted after the business alliance statement, according to Labor, and did not pick up until the Commonwealth government finally completed the wage survey process in July, one year after passage of the Workforce Act.
“Clearly, the business community would be in a better position had the Commonwealth government begun work on a prevailing wage survey as soon as the law was enacted [in July 2018], rather than waiting until now, when the application period is already beginning,” Congressman Sablan advised in April.
U.S. Labor made numerous attempts to help employers and the Commonwealth government adjust to the new law and file timely applications. Labor held webinars for employers in March and April and posted instructional materials online. The department held technical assistance calls in April and July to assist employers and business groups get applications in quickly.
Labor also set up the application process to be available online, so that mail times and distance would not hurt Marianas employers.