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 permission to employ aliens who are otherwise ineligible to work under any other nonimmigrant worker categories. The CW-1 program is scheduled to end on Dec. 31, 2029. 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 aliens 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. A single Form I-129CW, Petition for a CNMI-only Nonimmigrant Transitional Worker, may include more than one alien, and the CW-1 cap applies to the total number of aliens, not the number of petitions. All aliens are subject to the cap unless the alien has already been counted towards the cap in the same fiscal year. This includes long-term alien workers who are eligible for a period of stay of longer than one year and are counted toward the cap on a yearly basis.

The Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008 (CNRA), Public Law 110-229, was signed into law on May 8, 2008. Title VII of the CNRA amended Public Law 94-241, which was the act approving the Covenant to Establish a Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in Political Union with the United States. Title VII extended most provisions of the INA and other U.S. immigration laws to the CNMI for the first time. 

CW-1 Cap Through Fiscal Year 2030

The Northern Mariana Islands U.S. Workforce Act of 2018 (the Workforce Act), Public Law 115-218, signed by President Trump on July 24, 2018, extended the CW-1 program through Dec. 31, 2029, and established the CW-1 cap for the remaining fiscal years of the CW-1 program, ending Dec. 31, 2029. The intent of phasing out the CW-1 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.

In addition to the CW-1 cap for the remaining fiscal years of the CW-1 program established by the Workforce Act, the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020 established the CNMI Disaster Recovery Workforce Act (Disaster Recovery Act), Pub. L. 116-94, Title IX. The Disaster Recovery Act increased the CW-1 cap by 3,000 for fiscal years 2020, 2021 and 2022 for construction and extraction occupations for certain aliens performing service or labor directly connected to, or associated with recovery from a presidentially declared major disaster or emergency, or for preparation for a future disaster or emergency. For more information on the Disaster Recovery Act, please see the USCIS Accepting Petitions Under the CNMI Disaster Recovery Workforce Act page.

The table below provides the cap for each fiscal year through the end of the program.

Fiscal Year (FY)Cap
FY 201913,000
FY 202012,500 (plus 3,000 pursuant to the Disaster Recovery Act)
FY 202112,000 (plus 3,000 pursuant to the Disaster Recovery Act)
FY 202211,500 (plus 3,000 pursuant to the Disaster Recovery Act)
FY 202311,000
FY 202410,000
FY 20259,000
FY 20268,000
FY 20277,000
FY 20286,000
FY 20295,000
FY 2030 (until Dec. 31, 2029)1,000

CW-1 Cap Reservations

On May 14, 2020, USCIS published an interim final rule (IFR) to implement the provisions of the Workforce Act. Effective on June 18, 2020, the IFR made several revisions to the CW-1 classification, including establishing CW-1 cap reservations for certain occupational categories per fiscal year, as recommended by the governor of the CNMI. Specifically, it set aside 200 total for Healthcare Practitioners and Technical Occupations (occupational category 29-0000 in the Standard Occupational Classification system) and Healthcare Support Occupations (31-0000); and 60 for occupational categories related to the operations of the CNMI public utilities services, including, but not limited to Water/Waste Water Engineers (17-2081), Electrical Engineers (17-2071), Mechanical Engineers (17-2141), and Trades Technicians. The reserved CW-1 numbers will be made available to eligible employers requesting such numbers for a fiscal year in order of filing until exhausted. Unused reserved numbers for these occupational categories will not be available to other employers and do not carry over into the next fiscal year.

CW-1 Cap Additions

Under the Workforce Act, the IFR also implemented revocation procedures for an employer’s CW-1 petition, which include automatic revocation grounds if the employer either ceases operations or files a written withdrawal of the petition, or the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) revokes the temporary labor certification (TLC) upon which the petition is based. The IFR also identifies discretionary grounds for revocation on Notice of Intent to Revoke (NOIR) to incorporate the grounds listed in the Workforce Act.  For each beneficiary of a petition revoked in a fiscal year, USCIS will add a CW-1 cap number to the next fiscal year.

How a Petition is Assigned to a Fiscal Year Cap

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 an alien will be counted at the time the CW-1 petition is received. For example, 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, 2019, and Sept. 30, 2020Fiscal year 2020
Oct. 1, 2020, and Sept. 30, 2021Fiscal year 2021

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 the Cap is Reached

When the CW-1 cap is reached, USCIS will generally issue a web alert on our website. In order to receive this alert by email, please subscribe to USCIS Alerts. Any petitions received after the cap is reached, will be rejected, unless the petition is not subject to the annual cap. This includes CW-1 petitions for extension of stay which are also subject to the CW-1 cap.

If USCIS rejects an extension of stay petition, then the aliens listed on that petition are not permitted to work beyond the validity period of the previously approved petition. The aliens, including any CW-2 derivative family members, 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 USCIS receives enough cap-subject petitions to reach the cap of CW-1 workers for each fiscal year. This information will be announced after the cap is met.

A petition is considered filed when USCIS physically receives 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 Year 2020 CW-1 Cap

USCIS is currently accepting CW-1 petitions requesting an employment start date on or after Oct. 1, 2019 (the effective date for the FY 2020 CW-1 cap).

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