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

The CNMI-Only Transitional Worker (CW-1) visa classification allows employers in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) to apply for temporary 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.

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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.

DHS initially set the CW-1 cap for fiscal year 2011 and fiscal year 2012 in the CW-1 transitional worker program regulations. However, beginning with FY 2013, DHS chose to assess the CNMI workforce need each year before determining the upcoming fiscal year cap. As a result, each fiscal year CW-1 cap is annually published in the Federal Register. This approach ensures that CNMI employers have adequate notice of the supply of available CW-1 workers to better facilitate a smooth transition into the federal immigration system. It also provides DHS with the flexibility to adjust the cap according to the needs of the CNMI economy.

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, 2015, and Sept. 30, 2016

fiscal year 2016

Oct. 1, 2016, and Sept. 30, 2017

fiscal year 2017

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.


Fiscal Years 2017 and 2018 CW-1 Caps 

On Oct. 14, 2016, USCIS received a sufficient number of petitions to reach the cap of 12,998 workers who may be issued CW-1 visas or otherwise provided with CW-1 status for fiscal year 2017. Oct. 14, 2016 was the final receipt date for CW-1 worker petitions requesting an employment start date before Oct. 1, 2017.

As of May 25, 2017, USCIS has received a sufficient number of petitions to reach the maximum possible numerical limit (the “cap”) of workers who may be issued CW-1 visas or otherwise provided with CW-1 status for fiscal year 2018. Although the FY 2018 cap has not been set, it is required by statute to be less than the 12,998 workers set for FY 2017.  

We will issue subsequent guidance when the FY 2018 cap is set and when we are able to announce the final receipt date. Because the final receipt date will depend on the FY 2018 cap, it is also possible that USCIS will not accept some petitions received before May 25, 2017. 


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