12 Dec 2007

US House expands federal controls over CNMI immigration

3:08 pm on 12 December 2007

The United States House of Representatives has approved a bill which subjects the immigration and labour law in the Northern Marianas to greater federal control.

The bill would also create a federally run guest-worker programme in the CNMI.

It would also give the CNMI a delegate in the House with limited voting powers.

Currently Guam, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and the District of Columbia have a delegate in the House.

A similar bill is pending in the Senate.

The CNMI gained a reputation in the 1990s for garment factories where clothing, carrying "made in U.S." labels, was produced by foreign workers, often from China and the Philippines, under sweatshop conditions.

20,000 of the estimated 65,000 people in the CNMI are foreigners, but that number is decreasing because the local garment industry faces competition from China.

The Commonwealth's governor, Benigno Fitial, has opposed the legislation, saying it doesn't reflect recent steps to end labour abuses.

He says turning over immigration and guest worker controls to bureaucrats in Washington will impede efforts to attract Asian investment to revive the islands' faltering economy.