The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) responded to a statutory requirement to reduce each year the cap of nonimmigrant labor from the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). The cap for the CMNI-Only Transitional Worker (CW-1) program in fiscal year 2017 is now 12,998, a reduction of one.
With the CW-1 program, CNMI employers can apply for temporary permission to employ foreign nationals who aren’t eligible for any existing employment-based nonimmigrant category that falls under the Immigration and Nationality Act. The new fiscal cap for the CW program, in effect until Dec. 31, 2019, is intended 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,” according to a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) release. The statement continues, “Because the cap was reached for FY 2016 on May 5, DHS has decided to preserve the status quo, or current conditions, rather than aggressively reduce CW-1 numbers for FY 2017.”
Foreign workers who are employees of CNMI employers utilizing the program cannot be eligible for any other employment-based nonimmigrant visa classification such as the H-2B classification for temporary or seasonal workers and the H-1B classification for workers in a specialty occupation. DHS urges CNMI to reevaluate this criteria for their workers and to use other nonimmigrant classifications where appropriate.
CNMI-employed workers on H-2B or H-1B visas have no cap during the transition period, which ends Dec. 31, 2019.
The FY 2017 CNMI-Only announcement doesn’t affect the status of current CW-1 workers unless their employer files for an extension of the current authorized period of stay. Approved petitions that have an employment start date between Oct. 1, 2016, and Sept. 30, 2017 generally count towards the 12,998 cap.
Nonimmigrants holding CW-2 status– the spouses and minor children of CW-1 nonimmigrants aren’t directly affected by the revised cap.
USCIS encourages CW-1 employers to file a petition for a CW-1 nonimmigrant worker as early as possible– within six months of the proposed start date of employment. USCIS will reject any petition filed more than six months in advance.
DHS published the notice in the Federal Register on September 2.