On May 8, 2008, President Bush signed into law Public Law 110-229, the Consolidated
Natural Resources Act of 2008 (CNRA). Title VII of this law amended Pub. L.
94-241, the Act approving the Covenant to Establish a Commonwealth of the Northern
Mariana Islands (CNMI) in Political Union with the United States. Title VII
fully extends certain provisions of the immigration laws of the United States
to the CNMI for the first time in history. A transition period formally begins
November 28, 2009.
Questions and Answers
Q. Who qualifies for the CNMI-only Transitional Worker status in CNMI?
A. USCIS has established a transitional worker program for foreign nationals
to live and work in CNMI. Foreign nationals who are eligible for an INA-based
nonimmigrant status would not be eligible. Short term visitors for business
or pleasure are not eligible to obtain CW classification because such individuals
are not part of the foreign work force that is the subject of this interim rule.
Q. What is the legal basis for the CNMI-only Transition Worker program?
A. Section 6(d) of Pub. L. 94-241, as amended by CNRA, directed the Secretary
of Homeland Security to establish a transition program to assist CNMI employers
to obtain necessary workers who are not otherwise eligible under U.S. immigration
laws during the transition period.
Q. What is the purpose of the CNMI-Only Transitional Worker Program?
A. The CNMI-only Transitional Worker Program will allow foreign nationals who
are not eligible for another INA-based employment authorized nonimmigrant status
to perform work in CNMI during the transition period. Thus, the purpose of
the CNMI-Only Transitional Worker visa is to offer a lawful U.S. immigration
status to those foreign nationals who are not currently eligible for any other
kind of immigrant or nonimmigrant visa. During the transition period, it
is expected that these transitional workers will find a suitable, long-term
alternative to their CNMI-Only Transitional Worker status by obtaining status
under an INA-based visa category, or departing CNMI.
Q. What happens to foreign workers in CNMI on November 28, 2009?
A. When Federal immigration law takes effect in CNMI on November 28, 2009, foreign
workers who have a valid CNMI employment authorization may remain, live and
work in CNMI for up to two years, or for the duration of their CNMI-based status,
whichever occurs first. Before the expiration of that limited time period, they
must obtain either CNMI-Only Transitional Worker status, or some other lawful
U.S. immigration status to lawfully work and reside in CNMI and to travel between
CNMI and another U.S. or foreign destination. If they leave CNMI for any reason,
they must have a valid U.S. immigration visa to re-enter. Foreign workers who
do NOT have a CNMI work contract could risk becoming “unlawful”
if another U.S. immigration status is not obtained.
Q. What is the admission code for this visa classification be?
A. This new nonimmigrant visa classification will use the admission code CW-1
for the principal transitional worker and CW-2 for dependents.
Q. What does this mean for foreign residents who have been living and
working in CNMI?
A. For those foreign workers who are not eligible for another kind of U.S. immigration
status, the transitional worker visa is a critically important alternative.
It could potentially give thousands of foreign workers a temporary status while
they determine an appropriate long-term immigration status for themselves and
Q. What are the timeframes of the transition period?
A. Although U.S. immigration laws apply fully to CNMI, there will be a transition
period during which temporary measures will be carried out to allow for an orderly
transition from CNMI’s permit system to Federal immigration law and give
foreign non-resident workers time to identify an appropriate long-term INA-based
visa classification. The transition period begins on November 28, 2009 and
will end on December 31, 2014. The Secretary of Labor, in consultation with
appropriate federal agencies and the Governor of CNMI, may extend the CNMI-Only
Transitional Worker program for additional periods of up to five years. No decision
on any extension has been made at this time.
Q. What are the requirements for the new CNMI Transitional Worker visa
A. Under the CNMI-Only Transitional Worker program, there are requirements for
both employers and workers.
Requirements for Employers—Employers must be engaged
in legitimate business and may not engage directly or indirectly in prostitution,
trafficking in minors, or any other activity that is illegal under Federal or
CNMI law. The employer also bears the responsibility of filing the necessary
petition and paying the requisite fees to employ transitional workers.
Requirements for Workers — Under the interim final rule,
foreign workers may be classified as CW-1 nonimmigrants if, during the transition
- will enter or stay in CNMI to work in an occupational category that needs
alien workers to supplement the resident workforce;
- are petitioned for by an employer;
- live in CNMI;
- are lawfully present in CNMI; and
- are not otherwise inadmissible to the United States.
Q. What does a worker need to do to get this visa or status?
A. The foreign national worker must meet the criteria noted in the answer above
and find an employer willing to sponsor him/her. The responsibility for applying
rests with the employer. Employers may file a petition for a transitional worker
with USCIS using Form I-129CW, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker in the CNMI.
(This new form was modeled after the existing Form
Q. What does the worker’s spouse and/or child need to get CW-2
A. To accompany or follow to join, the derivative CW-2 nonimmigrant may file
for extension of nonimmigrant stay on Form
I-539 in accordance with the form instructions. The CW-2 status extension
may not be approved until approval of the CW-1 extension petition. The filing
fee is $300.
Q. How does someone obtain CW status?
A. Once the I-129CW petition is approved, the beneficiary and eligible family
members may apply for CW-1, or CW-2 status. Since foreign nationals present
in CNMI will not have given biometric information to the Federal government
before, and thus not have had required security checks conducted, biometrics
will be required. The fee to collect biometrics is $80. A fee waiver is available
if applicants can show inability to pay for both the Form I-129CW and biometric
fees. Aliens who are abroad will need to apply for a CW-1 or CW-2 visa at
a U.S. consulate. When applicants apply overseas, USCIS will not require
biometrics, however biometrics may be required by the Department of State.
Q. Which groups can apply for the Transitional Worker Program?
A. The transitional worker program will be available to two groups of foreign
workers: (1) those who are lawfully present in the CNMI and (2) those who are
Q. Can people with CW status travel outside the CNMI?
A. Once status is obtained, the CW-1 or CW-2 nonimmigrant may leave CNMI but
they must have the appropriate visa to re-enter. If the CW-1 or CW-2 status
is obtained in CNMI (not the Consular post abroad) the nonimmigrant will have
the legal status, but this is not a visa valid for travel to and admission into
CNMI. If the CW-1 or CW-2 nonimmigrant departs CNMI, he or she must obtain a
visa from a U.S. embassy or consulate to return to CNMI, unless alternative
arrangements have been specifically approved by the U.S. Department of Homeland
Q. How does one obtain the visa for re-entry?
A. Someone who has obtained CW-1 or CW-2 status in CNMI (not at a Consular post
abroad) who needs to leave CNMI for whatever reason will need to get a visa
from the State Department to re-enter CNMI. Usually this is done at the U.S.
Embassy or a U.S. Consulate via a locally managed appointment system. If, for
example, someone with CW-1 status plans to visit family in the Philippines,
he/she would need to make an appointment with the U.S. Embassy in Manila to
get the CW visa while they are in the Philippines. They would need to travel
with documents to show the State Department officer during their interview and
be prepared to wait at least a few days for the visa to be issued. Each U.S.
Embassy and Consulate abroad has a different appointment system.
Q. Can people with CW status travel elsewhere within the United States?
A. No. The CW visa classification is valid only in CNMI and does not permit
travel to any other part of the United States, including Guam. However, if someone
with CW status qualifies for another kind of nonimmigrant or immigrant visa,
or a visa waiver program, he or she may travel elsewhere in the United States
and the CW status would not prevent that.
Q. How much does it cost to apply for this visa?
A. The fee for Form I-129CW will be $320, the same amount charged for the I-129.
In addition, Public Law 110-229 mandates a “CNMI education funding fee”
of $150 per beneficiary per year which is mandatory and cannot be waived. Lastly,
there would be a fee of $80 to collect biometrics (fingerprints and photos)
and run necessary background checks. This expense could be borne by the applicant
or the employer.
Q. Are fee waivers available?
A. Normally there is no fee waiver in employment-based cases. However, due to
unique circumstances in CNMI, the I-129CW fee may be waived in extraordinary
situations where an employer can demonstrate an inability to pay the fee. However,
given the inherent inconsistency between sponsoring an alien for work and being
unable to pay the fee required for that sponsorship, the situations warranting
a fee waiver are expected to be extremely limited. There is a fee waiver for
the $80 biometrics fee if applicants can show an inability to pay.
Q. Can an employer petition for more than one worker on the same form?
A. Yes, with some restrictions, employers may file for multiple beneficiaries
on the same I-129CW. If the employees are all working in the same occupational
category, for the same time period and in the same location, the employer may
name as many employees on the petition as he/she wants. Unnamed beneficiaries
are not allowed under this program.
Q. When can employers begin filing for workers?
A. The interim final rule stipulates that employers may not file for a worker
more than six months before the date the employer needs that employee’s
services (i.e. if an employer needs a worker’s services on January 1,
the employer may submit a petition for the worker no earlier than July 1). The
rule states that petitions may be filed before November 28, 2009, but USCIS
will not grant CW-1 status before that date.
Q. What forms are needed to apply for this visa?
A. Employers may file a petition for a transitional worker with USCIS using
Form I-129CW, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker in CNMI. (This new form was
modeled after the existing Form I-129.)
Q. How does the employer file the Form I-129CW Petition?
A. By mail to the USCIS California Service Center. Please follow the instructions
on the form.
Q. What happens to CW-1 transitional workers at the end of the transition
A. The transition period ends on December 31, 2014. The CW classification will
exist for the duration of the transition period. CNMI-Only Transitional Worker
status will be granted initially for 1 year and is renewable throughout the
transition period in 1-year increments. At the end of the transition period,
the Transitional Worker Program will cease to exist and the transitional workers
who held this status must change to another nonimmigrant or immigrant status
under the INA if they wish to stay in CNMI lawfully. The U.S. Department of
Labor may extend the availability of the CNMI Transitional Worker Program beyond
2014, but no decision on any extension has been made at this time.
Q. What occupational categories would be allowed?
A. Under the rule, the Transitional Worker program includes MOST occupational
categories being used in CNMI now. Domestic household workers employed directly
by private residents will not be eligible for CW-1 status. However, domestic
workers employed through a “legitimate business” for placement in
individual households could be eligible.
Q. Which CNMI employers are eligible to petition for transitional workers?
A. To be eligible to petition for a CW-1 nonimmigrant worker, an employer must:
be engaged in legitimate business; consider all available United States workers
for the positions being filled by the CW-1 worker; offer terms and conditions
of employment which are consistent with the nature of the occupation, activity,
and industry in CNMI; and comply with all Federal and Commonwealth requirements
relating to employment, including nondiscrimination, occupational safety, and
minimum wage requirements. Legitimate business means a real, active, and operating
commercial or entrepreneurial undertaking which produces services or goods for
profit, or is a governmental, charitable or other validly recognized nonprofit
entity. The business must meet applicable legal requirements for doing business
in CNMI. A business will not be considered legitimate if it engages directly
or indirectly in prostitution, trafficking in minors, or any other activity
that is illegal under Federal or CNMI law.
Q. Can domestic workers receive CW-1 transitional worker status under
A. Yes, but they must be sponsored by an eligible employer doing business in
CNMI as described above.
Q. What does a CNMI employer need to demonstrate in its petition for
a transitional worker?
A. A petition must be accompanied by evidence demonstrating the petitioner meets
the definition of eligible employer, and must attest that: qualified United
States workers are not available to fill the position; the employer is doing
business as defined in the rule; the employer is a legitimate business as defined
in the rule; the worker has the qualifications for the position (including an
occupational license, if required for the occupation); the worker, if present
in CNMI, is lawfully present in CNMI; the position is not temporary or seasonal
employment, and the petitioner does not reasonably believe it to qualify for
any other nonimmigrant worker classification; and the position falls within
the list of acceptable occupational categories
Q. How many transitional worker visas will be available?
A. For the first year, the numerical limit for CW-1 status will be based on
CNMI government’s own estimate of the foreign worker population, which
is 22,417. The CNRA requires that the number be reduced on an annual basis to
zero by the end of the transition period. Therefore, after the first year, the
numerical limit will drop, but that number has not yet been determined.
Q. What about spouses and dependents? Can they travel and work?
A. The law allows spouses and minor children of someone in CW-1 nonimmigrant
status admission into CNMI as accompanying or following to join the principal
CW worker. The rule would adopt the INA’s definition of “child”
for immigration purposes (other than naturalization in section 101(b)) adding
a requirement that the child be under 18 years of age since the statute refers
to “minor children” rather than “children.” Employment
is not authorized for spouses and children of CW-1 nonimmigrants.
Q. Can CW-1 nonimmigrants change status or adjust status?
A. The law allows workers in the CW classification to change to another nonimmigrant
status or to adjust
status to lawful permanent resident (get a green card) throughout the transition
period if they are eligible. The rule allows an alien to be present in, or come
to, CNMI for a temporary period as a CW-1 or CW-2 nonimmigrant and, at the same
time, seek to become a lawful permanent resident of the United States, as long
as the alien intends to depart voluntarily at the end of the alien’s authorized
nonimmigrant stay. For purposes of qualifying for CW-1 or CW-2 classification,
the alien is not required to maintain a residence abroad, and dual immigrant
and nonimmigrant intent is allowed.
Q. I am a foreign worker in CNMI. Can I apply directly for CW status
without my employer’s approval?
A. No, CW status is based upon an employer in CNMI needing your services. Your
current or prospective employer must sponsor you by filing a Form I-129CW petition.
After that petition is approved, you and your eligible family members can obtain
CW status based on the approved petition.
Q. If I obtain CW status, will that lead to U.S. lawful permanent resident
('green card') status?
A. No, not directly. However, as a CW nonimmigrant you are not barred from obtaining
lawful permanent residence if otherwise eligible as a family- or employment-based
Q. How long does a grant of CW-1 status last?
A. One year. A CW-1 nonimmigrant in good standing may obtain additional one-year
extensions if his or her employer files a petition asking for the extension,
subject to availability under the numerical cap.
Q. How long does a grant of CW-2 status for a derivative family member
A. The same length of stay as the CW-1 principal, except that a CW-2 child’s
length of stay ends on his or her 18th birthday, if sooner.
Q. Can a CW-1 worker change jobs in CNMI and keep the CW-1 status?
A. Yes, but the new employer would have to file the Form I-129CW petition for
the worker’s new position before the worker can be employed there. CW-1
transitional workers are only authorized to work for the employer that has petitioned
Q. I am a CW nonimmigrant who obtained status in CNMI. I need to travel
abroad and return on very short notice because of a sudden family emergency.
Can I do that without a visa?
A. Normally a visa will be expected for the readmission of a CW nonimmigrant
returning to CNMI. In emergency situations, however, it may be possible for
DHS to give prior permission to travel and return without a visa.
Q. As a CW nonimmigrant, may I travel to or from the CNMI using flight
arrangements that transit through the Guam airport?
A. No. CW visas and status are authorized for travel to, and presence in CNMI
only. You may not travel to any other U.S. place, even in brief transit, without
an appropriate other visa or documentation authorizing that visit.