Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands: Managing Potential Economic Impact of Applying U.S. Immigration Law Requires Coordinated Federal Decisions and Additional Data

GAO-08-791 Published: Aug 04, 2008. Publicly Released: Aug 04, 2008.
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Highlights

The United States enacted legislation in May 2008 applying federal immigration law to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) subject to a transition period. The CNMI is subject to most U.S. laws but has administered its own immigration system, including admitting foreign workers, tourists, and foreign investors. The Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretaries of the Interior, Labor, and State, and the Attorney General, has the responsibility to establish a transition program. GAO was asked to review how the legislation's implementation may affect the CNMI economy, in particular the CNMI's (1) labor market, including foreign workers; (2) tourism sector; and (3) foreign investment. This report is based on GAO's March 2008 report (GAO-08-466) and analysis of data on the CNMI's labor market, tourism sector, and foreign investment.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Homeland Security Because of the importance of key implementation decisions by different federal agencies and the interaction of those decisions, the Secretary of Homeland Security should lead other relevant federal agencies, including the Departments of the Interior, Labor, and State, in identifying the interagency process that will be used to collaborate with one another--and consult with the CNMI government, as required--to jointly implement the legislation.
Closed - Implemented
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agreed with the recommendation. On March 25, 2011, DHS, and the departments of the Interior, Justice, Labor, and State finalized a memorandum of agreement that set forth the parameters of the working relationships and responsibilities for implementation of CNRA in the CNMI. (See GAO-11-805T)
Department of Homeland Security Because current data gaps limit federal agencies' ability to make key implementation decisions to best meet the goals of the legislation, the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Secretary of Labor should develop a strategy for obtaining critical data on the CNMI labor market that are not currently available on an ongoing basis, such as data on the wages, occupations, and employment status of CNMI residents and foreign workers.
Closed - Not Implemented
DHS did not take the recommended action. DHS has identified a single data source that it plans to use in making its key implementation decision, but this source does not distinguish between U.S. and foreign workers. DHS has reported that it will review data that the U.S. Department of Labor is collecting and analyzing that distinguishes between U.S. and foreign workers and that DHS may, at some future date, use the Department of Labor data.
Department of Homeland Security Because current data gaps limit federal agencies' ability to make key implementation decisions to best meet the goals of the legislation, the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Secretary of Labor should develop a strategy for obtaining critical data on CNMI foreign investment, such as overall levels of foreign investment and the investment amounts associated with various types of foreign investor entry permits.
Closed - Implemented
No further action is needed, because federal agencies have completed decisions related to CNMI foreign investors under the Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008. In 2010, DHS issued a final rule allowing a large proportion of investors holding CNMI long-term foreign investor permits to obtain U.S. CNMI-only non-immigrant treaty investor status during the 5-year transition period that began in 2009.
Department of Labor Because current data gaps limit federal agencies' ability to make key implementation decisions to best meet the goals of the legislation, the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Secretary of Labor should develop a strategy for obtaining critical data on the CNMI labor market that are not currently available on an ongoing basis, such as data on the wages, occupations, and employment status of CNMI residents and foreign workers.
Closed - Implemented
In 2012, DOL implemented this recommendation and provided GAO with DOL's strategy to obtain and analyze employment-related data for the CNMI in order to inform its decision-making. DOL plans to analyze data from the U.S. Census Bureau, including County Business Patterns data and Census 2012 data. It also plans to analyze CNMI W-2 tax record data, including data on citizenship and industry sector.
Department of Labor Because current data gaps limit federal agencies' ability to make key implementation decisions to best meet the goals of the legislation, the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Secretary of Labor should develop a strategy for obtaining critical data on CNMI foreign investment, such as overall levels of foreign investment and the investment amounts associated with various types of foreign investor entry permits.
Closed - Implemented
The agency indicated in its agency comments or 60-day letter that it concurred with the recommendation and planned to take action to implement it. GAO is monitoring or reviewing agency actions to implement the recommendation. GAO has ongoing work in this area.

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