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The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands To Transition to U.S. Immigration Law



CNMI Map

Washington, D.C. (December 8, 2008) – On June 1, 2009, U.S. immigration laws will begin to be applied in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). This is to be effectuated through U.S. Public Law 110-229, the Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008 ("the CNRA"), enacted by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush on May 8, 2008.

Although U.S. immigration laws will fully apply in the CNMI, the enacting law contains a number of special exceptions and provisions relating to the CNMI that provide for the continued presence of aliens whose admission was previously authorized by the CNMI.  The most significant provisions of the CNRA are listed below:

  • Includes the CNMI in the definition of "United States" under the Immigration and Nationality Act.

  • The Department of Homeland Security will become responsible for the inspection and admission of aliens into the CNMI, deportation and removal of aliens from the CNMI, granting of U.S. immigration benefits, and administration of U.S. protection law.

  • The Department will be responsible for operating air and sea ports of entry and establishing departure controls for flights destined for other parts of the United States.

  • The CNRA provides for the continued presence of aliens whose admission was authorized by the CNMI before the transition period. The law also creates a nonimmigrant transitional worker status intended for foreign workers needed by CNMI employers who are not otherwise eligible for an employment-based status under the INA during the transition period.

  • Establishes a transition period that will last initially until December 31, 2014.  The law allows for extensions of certain provisions of the transition period.  Extensions will be determined by the Secretary of Labor.

  • Provides for the Department of Homeland Security, through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), to immediately resume its role as a protection consultant with regard to asylee and refugee protection, followed by full federal assumption of responsibility for these functions on the transition program effective date. The INA section on asylum, however, continues to be inapplicable to the CNMI during the transition period.

  • Amends the Guam Visa Waiver Program statute to create a Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver Program and extends the authorized period of stay from 15 days to 45 days, as of the beginning of the transition period.

  • Creates a nonimmigrant transitional worker immigration status during the transition period.

  • Continues lawful presence and employment authorization (if applicable) for aliens lawfully admitted by the CNMI as of the transition program effective date.  Such lawful presence and employment authorization will remain valid until the end of the CNMI authorization or at the end of two years – whichever is first.

  • Provides for treaty investor nonimmigrant status for aliens with certain CNMI authorized long-term investor status.

  • Exempts the CNMI and Guam from the statutory caps on the number of H nonimmigrant temporary workers during the transition period.

  • Limits the removal of aliens lawfully present in the CNMI as of the start of the transition period on the basis of presence without admission or parole during the initial two years of the transition period or until that lawful status expires, whichever occurs first.

  • Eliminates the provision in the Covenant specifying that immigration-related fees are paid to the CNMI government, given that the Federal Government is to assume immigration responsibilities in the CNMI.

  • Imposes an annual supplemental fee of $150 per nonimmigrant transitional worker to fund vocational educational curricula and program development by CNMI educational entities.

  • Specifies that prior residence in the CNMI will count as residence in the United States for a permanent resident alien who may otherwise have been considered to have abandoned residence in the United States by residing in the CNMI.

  • Authorizes the Department of Homeland Security to establish operations in the CNMI prior to the beginning of the transition period.

  • Limits the number of temporary foreign workers in the CNMI during the period between enactment of the CNRA and the start of the transition period.  Specifically, the number of temporary workers is capped at the number present in the CNMI as of the date of enactment (May 8, 2008).

  • Requires the Departments of Homeland Security, Labor, and Justice to recruit and hire personnel from among qualified local applicants, to the maximum extent practicable.

For more information, please refer to the following press releases from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security: