USCIS Says NAFTA Not Applicable to Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI)
In December 2011, I submitted a question to the USCIS Quarterly National Stakeholder Engagement regarding the applicability of NAFTA to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) in light of changes to the U.S. immigration laws.
Congress recently approved legislation (Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008) to extend U.S. immigration laws to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). This law also created several transitional visa classifications to temporarily accommodate individuals working in the CNMI during this change. Following the expiration of their transition immigration status (e.g. CW-1 or E-2 CNMI), Canadian and/or Mexican citizens working in the CNMI must change to a visa classification under U.S. immigration law. The natural course for most Canadian or Mexican citizens in this situation would be a TN or E-2 under NAFTA.
However, NAFTA only applies to the customs territory of the United States, which includes the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Additionally, according to NAFTA Implementation Cable 010, NAFTA does not apply to the CNMI. Now that U.S. immigration law has been extended to the CNMI, it was unclear whether the policy precluding applicability of NAFTA to the CNMI would change to allow Canadian and Mexican citizens working in the CNMI to file for TN visa status under NAFTA.
In response to my question, USCIS confirmed that the Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008 "did not change the limitation of NAFTA to the customs territory of the United States, or place the CNMI within U.S. customs territory for NAFTA or any other purpose." USCIS added that "[w]e neither have made, nor do we anticipate, any policy change that would treat the CNMI differently from Guam and the USVI with respect to availability of NAFTA-based nonimmigrant status." USCIS, National Quarterly Stakeholder Engagement, Q & A (Dec. 2011).
As result, following the transitional period, individuals working in the CNMI would only be eligible for one of the non-immigrant visa classifications enumerated under the INA. They would not be able to take advantage of any of the immigration provisions available under NAFTA such as the TN visa.