The CNMI-Only Transitional Worker (CW-1) visa classification allows employers in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) to apply for permission to employ aliens who are otherwise ineligible to work under other nonimmigrant worker categories. This visa is designed to increase the Northern Mariana Islands’ workforce which, as a small and isolated chain of islands in the Pacific, is relatively low and aging.
Without a way to bring in workers from the Philippines and China, the Northern Mariana Islands’ economy would not survive. Unfortunately, though, many of the people seeking employment in the Islands do not qualify for a standard B2 or H-1B visa. As a workaround to this problem, Congress instituted the CW-1 visa to specifically address the unique needs of the Northern Mariana Islands.
Applicants seeking a CW-1 visa should know before applying that there are set limits on the number of CW-1 workers allowed into the Islands each year. These limits are job-specific and are updated relatively frequently. This means that you could be put on a waiting list or denied based on the number of workers already permitted to enter the Islands.
To qualify, employers must:
● Obtain an approved temporary labor certification (TLC) from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and consider all available U.S. workers for the position;
● Be engaged in a legitimate business, including participation in the E-Verify Program, as defined at 8 CFR 214.2(w)(1)(vii);
● Offer terms and conditions of employment consistent with the nature of the employer’s business in the CNMI;
● Comply with all federal and CNMI requirements relating to employment. Examples include nondiscrimination, occupational safety, and minimum wage requirements;
● Pay reasonable transportation costs if the alien is involuntarily dismissed from employment for any reason before the end of the period of authorized admission; and
● Comply with the semiannual reporting requirement by timely filing Form I-129CWR, Semiannual Report for CW-1 Employers.
An alien may be classified as a CW-1 nonimmigrant during the transition period, beginning on Nov. 28, 2009, and ending on Dec. 31, 2029, subject to the CW-1 cap, if he or she:
● Is ineligible for any other employment-based nonimmigrant status under U.S. immigration law;
● Will enter or stay in the CNMI to work in an occupational category designated as needing alien workers to supplement the resident workforce;
● Is the beneficiary of a petition filed by a legitimate employer who is doing business in the CNMI;
● Is not present in the United States, other than the CNMI;
● Is lawfully present in the CNMI if present in the CNMI; and
● Is admissible to the United States or is granted any necessary waiver of a ground of inadmissibility.
Generally, an alien classified as a CW-1 nonimmigrant may not be employed in a construction and extraction occupation, unless the alien is a long-term worker who was admitted or otherwise granted status as a CW-1 during each fiscal year from 2015 through 2018 (Oct. 1, 2014 through Sept. 30, 2018)
However, this regulation was slightly modified as of 2020, under the Disaster Recovery Act. In anticipation of future natural disasters, the limit on how many construction and extraction workers can work in the Islands has been raised to 3,000 employees. This bump is only relevant through the year 2022, though. To qualify for a CW-1 visa under the Disaster Recovery Act, you must be engaged in labor that relates directly to disaster recovery or prevention. This includes construction, renovation, and repair work detailed in a contract or subcontract connected to prevention and disaster relief.
CW-1 visas are generally granted for one year, but they can be extended up to a total of three years. When a CW-1 visa is granted, the visa holder is given a 10-day grace period before the visa takes effect and a 10-day grace period after the visa expires in which time they can either leave the Islands or finalize a petition for an extension.
After extending a CW-1 visa for a second time, if you wish to extend it further, you must first leave the Islands for 30 days before your employer can file a petition for an extension. If you wish to bring dependents with you to the Islands, you are permitted to do so, but they must already be lawfully present in the CNMI when you file form I-539 for them to receive a CW-2 visa. They must also depart for the same 30-day period if you wish to extend your visa after already extending it twice.
This visa is very specific, requires an employer, and will likely be approved if you can show the CNMI connections and the proper job duties. Thanks to the economic and demographic situation in the Northern Mariana Islands, it is fairly easy to get approved for this type of visa, as long as there is not already an abundance of people working in your current career field. Definitely consult with an attorney if you are planning on filing for this visa, as they can help you work out any kinks or setbacks that might prevent you or a potential employee from being approved.