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).

For more information on CW visas, please visit the USCIS web page or the Code of Federal Regulations (8 CFR 214.2 (w)).

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