CW-1: CNMI-Only Transitional Worker

The CW-1 visa is a very specific visa program that allows employers in Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) to apply for temporary permission to employ foreign, non-immigrant workers who would otherwise be ineligible to work under other nonimmigrant categories. The CW visa is considered a temporary classification and a method of transition from the former CNMI foreign worker permit system to the U.S. immigration system. The transition period began on November 28, 2009 and is scheduled to end on December 31, 2014. However, the Department of Labor maintains the right to extend the transition period if deemed necessary. Beyond the end of the transition period the CNMI will be fully integrated into the U.S. immigration system.  The rule allows time for employers to adjust their hiring practices and for eligible foreign workers to obtain non-immigrant visas or immigrant visa classifications available under the U.S. and Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). CW Transitional Workers are expected to find a suitable alternative immigration status before the end of the transition period if they wish to remain in the CNMI.

In order to facilitate the transition into the U.S. immigration system, there is a numerical limitation on the number of CW-1 visas that will be issued each fiscal year. This numerical limitation will decrease at a rate determined by the Secretary of Homeland Security until the number of CW-1 nonimmigrants has been reduced to zero at the end of the transition period. For the first year of the transition period, November 28, 2009 to September 30, 2010, the numerical limitation was 22,417. As of fiscal year 2012, the numerical limitation for CW-1 visas was 22,416. Spouses and minor children of CW-1s may apply for a CW-2 nonimmigrant classification as dependents of the CW-1 status holder. CW-2s are not included in the annual numerical limitation.

CW-1 status is valid for only one year. The status holder must re-register for CW status or obtain another INA nonimmigrant or immigrant classification following the expiration of their CW status in order to lawfully stay in the CNMI. Extensions of CW-1 status may be granted for periods of 1 year until the end of the transition period. However, extensions are subject to the CW-1 numerical limitation. A CW visa is only valid in the CNMI and does not provide for travel to any other part of the United States. Any alien on CW status who attempts to enter or travel to any other part of the U.S. without the appropriate visa or visa waiver eligibility will be deemed in violation of the CW status.

Aliens in valid CW-1 status may legally change status to another type of non-immigrant status or adjust to permanent resident status. CW-1 visas are dual intent, meaning that an alien may legitimately come to the CNMI for a temporary period on a CW visa for a temporary period as a nonimmigrant and, at any time, lawfully seek to become a permanent resident of the United States (provided that he or she intends to depart the CNMI voluntarily at the end of their period of authorized stay).

Eligibility Requirements

There are certain occupational categories that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has determined will require alien workers to supplement the CNMI residential workforce. These occupations include:

  1. Professional, technical, or management occupations;
  2. Clerical and sales operation;
  3. Service occupations;
  4. Agricultural, fisheries, forestry, and related occupations;
  5. Processing occupations;
  6. Machine trade occupations;
  7. Bench work occupations;
  8. Structural work occupations; and
  9. Other miscellaneous occupations.

Both prospective CW-1 employees and their prospective employer must meet general eligibility requirements before they can file a CW petition. In order to qualify for workers with CW status, employers must:

  1. Be engaged in a legitimate business. A legitimate business is defined as 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 the legal requirements for doing business in the CNMI. A business is considered illegitimate if it engages directly in prostitution, human trafficking, or any other activity that is illegal under Federal or CNMI law;
  2. Consider all available U.S. workers for the position;
  3. Offer terms and conditions of employment consistent with the nature of the employer’s business in the CNMI;
  4. File the necessary forms to hire transitional workers;
  5. Comply with all federal and CNMI requirements relating to employment (examples include nondiscrimination, occupational safety, and minimum wage requirements); and
  6. Pay reasonable transportation costs of the individual to the individual’s last place of foreign residence if the employee is involuntarily dismissed from their job for any reason before the end of the period of authorized status.

According to U.S.C.I.S., a foreign worker may be classified as a CW-1 non-immigrant worker during the CNMI transition period if he or she:

  1. Is ineligible for any other employment based non-immigrant status under U.S. immigration law;
  2. Will enter or stay in the CNMI to work in an occupational category designated as needed alien workers to supplement the resident workforce;
  3. Is the beneficiary of a petition filed by a legitimate employer who is doing business in the CNMI;
  4. Is not present in the U.S. other than the CNMI; and,
  5. Is lawfully present in the CNMI (if present in the CNMI at the time of the visa request).

In order to demonstrate the petitioner and beneficiary meet the necessary requirements, a CW visa petition must be accompanied by the following evidence:

  1. Evidence demonstrating the petitioner meets the definition of eligible employer; and
  2. An attestation by the petitioner certified as trued and accurate by an appropriate official of the petitioner, of the following:
    1. Qualified U.S. workers are not available to fill the position;
    2. The employer is doing legitimate business;
    3. The employer is a legitimate business as defined in 8 CFR 214.2(w)(1)(i);
    4. The beneficiary meets the qualifications for the position;
    5. The beneficiary, if present in the CNMI, is lawfully present in the CNMI;
    6. 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,
    7. The position falls within the list of occupational categories designated by the Department of Homeland Security.

To qualify for an extension of stay, the petitioner must demonstrate that the beneficiary has continuously maintained the terms and conditions of their CW-1 status, remains admissible to the United States, and remains eligible for CW-1 classification.