The federal government — as it has for decades — has once again made the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, just North of Guam, a really cushy place for the employers of foreign workers.
Congress and the president have decided that the old foreign worker ceiling of 4,999 was too low, and that it should be more than doubled to 13,000. The ceiling is just for those with the CNMI-only work permit; there are also a handful of workers in the islands with federal permits, such as H-1B. Aliens on the CW-1 visas have no path to citizenship, and are thus without any political influence, as we have reported earlier.
The numbers cited above are not Mainland numbers; CNMI has a tiny population. There are 38,679 people over the age 16 in these islands that we picked up after World War II, and of these 27,968 were in the labor force, with a substantial part of both of those numbers, taken from the 2010 census, consisting of foreign workers.
So 13,000 would be a hair over a third of the entire work force, and close to half the number of those employed. There are (comparatively) massive local populations of alien workers, mostly Filipinos, with some from China, Nepal, and other locations. There are also a little over 1,000 mainlanders in the islands, mostly professionals.
The labor market in the Marianas is what one would expect in an environment where the employers have all the political power, and the workers none. Wages in the private sector are kept low, unions are non-existent, and violations of the labor laws are all too common. Most of the indigenous population prefers to work for the undemanding, and over-staffed, commonwealth government.
The employers control the local government, the islands' non-voting delegate in the U.S. House of Representative goes along with them, and the Department of Homeland Security, in this and previous administrations, always sees it the employers' way. (I spent some time on all three inhabited islands, Saipan, Tinian, and Rota, when I was a Department of Interior staffer 20 years ago).
The legislation exploding the alien worker ceiling wound its way through Congress and a presidential signature very quietly, and I missed it completely until USCIS issued a press release about the new law.
That bit of legislation contains a useful new element, a $50 per worker anti-fraud fee to be paid by the employers. If the ceiling is met, that will give DHS $650,000; hopefully the department will use it to send a couple of sharp investigators to the islands, people not yet captured by the islands' power structure.