The CNMI-Only Transitional Worker (CW-1) Cap

UPDATE: On July 24, 2018, President Trump signed the Northern Mariana Islands U.S. Workforce Act of 2018, extending the CW-1 program through Dec. 31, 2029, and increasing the CW-1 cap for fiscal year (FY) 2019 from 4,999 to 13,000. We are currently in the process of updating this webpage. For additional information on the U.S. Workforce Act, please read the web alert: New Law Extends CNMI CW-1 Program, Mandates New Fraud Fee, and Will Require E-Verify Participation.

The CNMI-Only Transitional Worker (CW-1) visa classification allows employers in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) to apply for permission to employ foreign nonimmigrant workers who are otherwise ineligible to work under other nonimmigrant worker categories. The CW-1 program is scheduled to end on Dec. 31, 2019. For more information about CW-1 status, please see our CW-1 CNMI-Only Transitional Worker page.

The CW-1 Cap

The “cap” (or numerical limitation) is the limit on the total number of individuals who may be issued CW-1 visas or otherwise provided with CW-1 status during a fiscal year. A fiscal year begins on Oct. 1 and ends on Sept. 30. The U.S. government’s single CW-1 petition may include more than one beneficiary, and the CW-1 cap applies to the total number of beneficiaries, not the number of petitions. All CW-1 workers are subject to the cap unless the worker has already been counted towards the cap in the same fiscal year.

Title VII of the Consolidated Natural Resources Act (CNRA) of 2008 gives the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) the authority to manage the CW-1 cap. USCIS is the component within DHS that oversees the CW-1 cap. Among other things, the CNRA requires an annual reduction in the number of individuals who may be issued CW-1 visas or otherwise provided with CW-1 status each fiscal year. USCIS may only reduce the CW-1 cap every fiscal year; we cannot raise it. In addition, we are required by statute to reduce the number of CW-1 nonimmigrant workers to zero by the end of the transition period, Dec. 31, 2019.

CW-1 Program Revisions

On August 22, 2017, the CW-1 visa classification was revised with the enactment of the Northern Mariana Islands Economic Expansion Act. The permanent changes are:

  • CW-1 visas will generally no longer be available to workers who will be performing jobs classified as 47-0000 “construction and extraction occupations” in the U.S. Department of Labor’s Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system. The CNMI Department of Labor will generally identify the SOC group on the required Job Vacancy Announcement (JVA). While USCIS will consider the job classification identified on the JVA, USCIS is not bound by this determination and may make a separate and independent judgment based on a preponderance of the evidence in each case.
  • USCIS will deny CW-1 petitions for construction and extraction occupations if the worker has not continually maintained CW-1 status for the same employer since before October 1, 2015. This new limitation applies to CW petitions that were pending with USCIS as of August 22, 2017, as well as to any petitions filed after that date.
  • The education fee has increased from $150 to $200 per worker for petitions filed after August 22, 2017.

The following CW-1 caps have been announced:

Fiscal Year





Regulation Citation for Fiscal Year 2011 CW-1 Cap



Regulation Citation for Fiscal Year 2012 CW-1 Cap



Federal Register Notice for Fiscal Year 2013 CW-1 Cap



Federal Register Notice for Fiscal Year 2014 CW-1 Cap



Federal Register Notice for Fiscal Year 2015 CW-1 Cap



Federal Register Notice for Fiscal Year 2016 CW-1 Cap



Federal Register Notice for Fiscal Year 2017 CW-1 Cap


How a Petition is Assigned to a Fiscal Year

USCIS uses the employment start date located in Part 5 of Form I-129CW, Petition for a CNMI-Only Nonimmigrant Transitional Worker, to determine in which fiscal year cap a CW-1 beneficiary will be counted. Please see the chart below.

If the employment start date falls between:

Then the beneficiary will be subject to the following CW-1 cap:

Oct. 1, 2017, and Sept. 30, 2018

fiscal year 2018

Oct. 1, 2018, and Sept. 30, 2019

fiscal year 2019

Oct. 1, 2019, and Dec. 31, 2019

fiscal year 2020

Petitions that are Subject to the CW-1 Cap

The following Form I-129CW petitions are generally subject to the CW-1 cap:

  • New employment petitions; and
  • Extension of stay petitions.

The CW-1 cap does not apply to CW-2 dependents.

When to File CW-1 Petitions

We encourage CW-1 employers to file a petition for a CW-1 nonimmigrant worker up to 6 months in advance of the proposed start date of employment, and as early as possible within that timeframe. We will reject a petition if it is filed more than 6 months in advance.

File Your Form I-129CW Properly

CW-1 employers must ensure that petitions for CW-1 nonimmigrant workers are accurately completed and properly submitted. We will reject any petition that is not properly filed. If we reject a petition, we will not recognize the initial filing date or extend any applicable filing deadlines.

Remember to:

  1. Complete all sections of the Form I-129CW petition, including the employer attestation.
  2. Make sure each form has an original signature, preferably in black ink.
  3. Include signed checks or money orders with the correct fee amount.
  4. Submit all required documentation and evidence with the petition at the time of filing.

When the Cap is Reached

When the CW-1 cap has been reached, we will issue a web alert on our website. In order to receive this alert by email, please subscribe to USCIS Alerts. After the cap has been reached, we will not accept any cap-subject petitions; we will reject petitions and return all filing fees to petitioners. This includes CW-1 petitions for extension of stay which are also subject to the CW-1 cap.

If we reject an extension of stay petition, then the beneficiaries listed on that petition are not permitted to work beyond the validity period of the previously approved petition. The beneficiaries, including any CW-2 derivative family members of a CW-1 nonimmigrant, must depart the CNMI within 10 days after the CW-1 validity period has expired, unless they have some other authorization to remain under U.S. immigration law.

Determining the Final Receipt Date for the CW-1 Cap

The final receipt date is the date when we receive enough cap-subject petitions to reach the cap of CW-1 workers for each fiscal year. This information will be announced after the cap has been met.

An immigration application or petition is considered filed when we physically receive the petition, not when the petition is mailed. If a petition arrives at USCIS after the final receipt date, we will reject it and return the filing fees.

CW-1 Cap for Fiscal Years 2018 through 2020

On April 11, 2017, USCIS received a sufficient number of petitions to reach the cap of 9,998 workers who may be issued CW-1 visas or otherwise provided with CW-1 status for fiscal year 2018.

USCIS has also announced the cap for the remaining fiscal years of the CW-1 program. Congress previously mandated that USCIS end the program by reducing the number of workers to zero by Dec. 31, 2019. The intent of phasing out this foreign worker program is to encourage the territory’s transition into the U.S. immigration system, as well as to bolster recruitment of U.S. workers in the CNMI. The table below provides the cap for each fiscal year through the end of the program.

Fiscal Year (FY)


FY 2018


FY 2019


FY 2020 (until Dec. 31, 2019)




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