We have known for a long time that a speck of American territory – the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, just north of Guam – has a foreign-worker-dominated labor market, more akin to a Gulf emirate than to any American jurisdiction.
We now have fresh data to prove that generalization. A federal law signed by Donald Trump in 2018, and its follow-on regulations, call for all employers in the CNMI to report every six months on how many workers, citizens and aliens, they have on their payrolls.
As background, the CNMI employers have more access to foreign workers under more relaxed rules than anywhere else under the U.S. flag (except maybe American Samoa which has its own immigration law). There is a special visa category, CW-1, for alien workers who cannot qualify for any of the multitudinous foreign worker categories available on the Mainland. Most foreign workers in the islands are from China or the Philippines and they are dominant in the private-sector economy; they are also, often, ill-paid.
The DHS regulations cited earlier require, in exchange for super-lax rules, some paperwork of the aliens’ employers:
Data fields include information to verify what was approved on the [immigration] petition versus the actual terms under which the CW-1 is employed. For example, the form requests information on how many CW-1 beneficiaries were approved on the original petition; how many of the approved beneficiaries remain in CW-1 status and are still working for the petitioner; the wage offered, per week or year, on the approved Form I-129CW versus the actual wage, per week or per year, currently paid to the CW-1 workers; and the hours per week, offered on the approved Form I-129CW versus the actual hours worked per week.
All the information can be copied from payroll records. Data required of all U.S. taxpayers, particularly those with multiple sources of income, or complex tax breaks, is much more complicated on the Form 1040 than these requirements for CNMI employers, employers who have chosen to avoid the citizens’ labor market. And the 1040 requirements are laid on all of us, not just the privileged minority given foreign workers.
Given the generous supply of lightly regulated foreign workers, how have the employers reacted to the minimalistic reporting requirement?
According to a recent article in the Marianas Variety, 72 percent of CNMI employers have not complied with the federal reporting requirement; it quoted a local Chamber of Commerce member calling not for more compliance but a further set of special, easier rules for the local employers.
Unfortunately every recent administration in Washington has ignored the lawlessness in the CNMI generally – two recent governors were impeached but not removed – and this administration does not seem to be any different.
For example: one (non-impeached) CNMI governor a quarter-century ago felt impelled to institute a very specialized reform – he signed an order saying that if you claim you are poor enough to get Food Stamps, you cannot also claim that you are rich enough to employ a foreign worker as a household servant. Try to think about a situation so ridiculously out-of-synch in which such an order could even be contemplated.