Panel weighs green card •Residency considered as incentive for business

Posted on Dec 24 1998

The Economic Recovery and Revitalization Task Force eyes the possibility of granting residency to businessmen as a way of attracting investors to the CNMI, a plan patterned after Guam which has made the neighboring island an investment hub in the region.

Such proposal is among the recommendations initially outlined by the task force as come-on to investors, whose presence in the Northern Marianas have thinned since the implementation of stringent business requirements early last year.

Potential investors frowned at a law requiring them to put up a $100,000 security bond on top of $150,000 in actual assets, which was designed to curb the proliferation of mom-and-pop-type of investments.

But with the decline in investments entering the commonwealth further exacerbated by the year-long financial strife in Asia – the island economy’s main source of tourists and fresh capital – local officials are findings ways to reverse the tide.

The administration is pushing the Legislature to ease investment restrictions to improve the business climate, and is currently drafting plans to create the first free trade zone in the Northern Marianas to diversify the tourism-dependent economy.

According to Bill Stewart, task force consultant, legislators should look at the US Alien Entrepreneur Program and initiate discussion with the federal government on how this can be applied to the Northern Marianas.

Under the law, the citizens from other countries may apply for a permanent resident visa, commonly known as Green Card, to any of the 50 states provided that they invest at least $1 million in a new or existing business that will employ at least 10 people.

The requirement is $500,000 for business that is located in a rural or economically distressed area in the mainland or Hawaii.

While the program is administered by the US Immigration and Naturalization Service, Stewart suggested that the local government seek a waiver to qualify under the law. The commonwealth is not covered by the program since it controls its own immigration.

A number of foreign investors on Guam have been granted residency or American citizenship under the program after doing two years business on that island.

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