New Legislation Increases CW1 Cap for FY-2017 and Makes Other Changes to CW1 Program

Alexander J. Segal's picture

On August 28, 2017, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) released a news update titled “New Legislation Increases Availability of Visas for CNMI Workers for Fiscal Year 2017” [PDF version].

On August 22, 2017, President Donald Trump signed the Northern Mariana Islands Economic Expansion Act. H.R. 339 [PDF version] into law. The legislation modifies provisions relating to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) Transitional Worker classification, more commonly known as “CW1.” The CW1 transitional worker category is a limited nonimmigrant work visa applying only to individuals in the Northern Mariana Islands who would be ineligible to work under other nonimmigrant work visa categories [see work visa category].

The new legislation adds 350 CW1 visas to the fiscal year 2017 CW1 cap. This raises the CW1 cap from 12,998 to 13,348. The 350 additional CW1 visas are available only to those who are currently in CW1 status, who are seeking to extend CW1 status, and whose CW1 petition validity period expires between August 23, 2017 and September 30, 2017.

60 of the 350 CW1 visas are reserved for “healthcare practitioners and technical operations.” Ten of the 350 CW1 visas are reserved for “plant and system operators.” Both of these terms are defined in the U.S. Department of Labor's (DOL) Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system.

However, effective August 22, 2017, CW1 visas will generally not be available to workers performing jobs classified in the SOC system as “construction and extraction operations.” The only exception to this new restriction applies to workers performing such a job who have maintained continuous CW1 status for the same employer since before October 1, 2015. For all other cases, the restriction applies both to CW1 petitions pending with the USCIS as of August 22, 2017, and to CW1 petitions filed in the future.

Finally, the mandatory CNMI education fee for all CW1 employees has increased to $200 from $150 for each CW1 worker per year. The USCIS will reject any petitions received after August 22, 2017, that either omit the fee payment entirely or include an incorrect or insufficient fee payment. However, the new fee does not apply to CW1 petitions filed and pending with the USCIS before August 22, 2017.

On May 25, 2017, we posted an article on the USCIS reaching the initial 12,998 CW1 cap for fiscal year 2017 [see article]. We have updated that article with the new information, but please see it for more general points about recent developments with the CW1 transitional worker category.

New Legislation Increases CW1 Cap for FY-2017 and Makes Other Changes to CW1 Program