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Territorial leaders, Congress seek input in visa rules for Chinese tourists

by | Jan 8, 2024 | American Samoa, Congress, Federal Government, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands | 0 comments

Concerns raised by members of Congress about visa waivers for Chinese tourists visiting the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) and Guam have been met with conflicting calls by government officials on the islands.

Currently, foreign visitors to the territory can travel through the Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver Program, which allows visa-free entry to Guam or CNMI. Certain countries are eligible for the program, including China, which was added to the program in 2009 by United States Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano after the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) found that Chinese tourists are an important economic benefit to the CNMI. Napolitano’s parole allows Chinese nationals to travel to CNMI for business or pleasure for a maximum period of 45 days. Tourism is essential to the survival of the CNMI economy, with visitors from South Korea and China amounting to over 500,000 tourists in 2018 alone. Chinese tourism added $526 million to the CNMI economy, providing $31.5 million in government revenue. 

Still, a report released in 2019 by the Trump administration and former Governor Ralph Torres (R) highlighted several concerns and possible reforms to the policy. CNMI has seen an increase in birth tourism, where foreign nationals give birth on American territory to give their child citizenship. There was a 175% increase in births by Chinese tourists on the island between 2010 and 2012. The report also found other national security, public safety, and immigration concerns, leading representatives of the federal government and territory government to suggest several recommendations, including shortening the maximum period of visitation to 14 days, additional screening, increased governmental collaboration, and the creation of the CNMI Economic Vitality and Security Travel Authorization Program (EVS-TAP). The EVS-TAP would add additional security provisions and specific requirements, allowing prescreened Chinese nationals to travel to CNMI without a tourist visa. They would no longer be able to travel to Guam.

The EVS-TAP reform was not implemented and was largely ignored until 2023. In November, Representative Neal Dunn (R) of Florida and Senator Joni Ernst (R) of Iowa sent a letter to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas imploring Mayorkas to end the waiver parole for Chinese nationals and institute a B-1/B-2 tourist visa requirement. Three other Republicans in the Senate and 27 Republican Representatives signed the letter.

The Congress members pointed to drug trafficking, illegal immigration, and organized crime involving Chinese nationals. Companies in Guam were sanctioned for using illegal Chinese labor. Other Chinese nationals entered Guam and then coordinated illegal jobs and boat rides into the territory, which also houses US military bases. Two Chinese nationals in CNMI were sentenced to prison for distributing drugs in 2023.

Congressional delegates for American territories in the Pacific remain divided over whether to reform the visa waiver program by implementing EVS-TAP or to institute stricter B-1/B-2 tourist visas. Delegate Amata Coleman Radewagen (R) of American Samoa said, “It’s important to help protect the people of CNMI, and a thoughtful B1/B2 Visa policy is part of a commonsense effort to preserve safety throughout the Indo-Pacific.” 

Delegate James Moylan (R) of Guam added that “Guam and the CNMI are once again targets of China’s attempts to gain an edge over the United States. A large number of Chinese citizens enter Guam’s shores illegally, often arriving in small boats from our neighboring islands. This poses a serious threat to the security of my island and to the United States of America. We must take action to safeguard our national security and make it harder for unauthorized visitors to infiltrate the Northern Mariana Islands.”

The CNMI Senate passed a resolution urging DHS to implement EVS-TAP, with Governor Arnold Palacios (I) saying the federal government should look into the program. Business associations on CNMI also released a letter supporting EVS-TAP.

Delegate Gregorio Sablan (D) of CNMI backed EVS-TAP, highlighting the importance of tourism to the CNMI economy. Sablan said, “Tourism in the Marianas is still emerging from the pandemic quarantine period, but in the long run, our islands must establish what has traditionally been the mainstay of our economy.”Sablan added that the 2019 report “recognized a statutorily authorized alternative that could both address the vulnerabilities of the parole system and maintain the economic benefits to the Marianas of tourism from China.”



Aamir Jamil

Aamir Jamil

Aamir Jamil is a student at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. After living in Switzerland and Saudi Arabia, he became fascinated with international affairs, politics, and history. He enjoys reading, researching politics and political trends, discovering American and world history, and poring over the news in his free time. Other hobbies include playing the clarinet and writing for the university newspaper. He is a Federal Affairs Intern Editor at Pasquines.


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