Russians no longer allowed to enter CNMI without visa effective last week
It is easy to forget that any change in government policy often means disrupted lives. Yuri, a Russian national who has been visiting Saipan every year for two decades now, is bidding Saipan adieu for the last time and will possibly never see Saipan again.
This comes after the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, effective Thursday last week, stopped the entry of Russian tourists to the CNMI and Guam without first obtaining a U.S. visa.
Gloria Cavanagh, who chairs the Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands and is general manager of Pacific Islands Club Saipan, said that the Russian tourist, whom she only named as Mr. Yuri, has been coming to Saipan for 20 years now and his visit this year is his 20th.
Mr. Yuri’s wife, who was also a Russian national, used to come with him to the CNMI but she passed away a few years ago, Cavanagh said, yet Mr. Yuri still comes to the island.
Last Tuesday, one of the hotel’s managers saw Mr. Yuri watering an ironwood tree near PIC. When asked why, Mr. Yuri explained that it was his 18th time to visit PIC and, each time he and his wife would come here, they would water the tree. He said that when they started doing that, the tree was still small but, throughout the years, it has now become tall and robust. Seeing the tree, Mr. Yuri said he felt compelled to water it, as he and his wife have done so many times before.
Cavanagh said that Mr. Yuri has been very emotional on this trip as he knows he will not be able to travel back to Saipan with ease. This is Mr. Yuri’s second trip to Saipan this year.
Cavanagh said that Mr. Yuri is like any other Russian tourist who would spend 45 days on the island.
She said the decision of the U.S. government to remove the parole program and its effect on the economy may be minimal but it has far-reaching ramifications. “We are talking about tourists that are repeat guests that have been coming here for many, many years,” she said.
Cavanagh said that since there is no direct flight from Russia, their guests from that country is actually very small. “But we still have those guests like Mr. Yuri that come here and have been here [several times],” she said.
Cavanagh said that when met Mr. Yuri at PIC last Tuesday, Oct. 1, he told her this would be the last time he would be visiting Saipan, because he would now have to apply for a U.S. visa first and wait. She said that, according to Mr. Yuri, it sometimes takes months just to obtain a visa to come here.
“So it’s sad,” she said.
Cavanagh said she does not think anyone was actually paying attention to the issue because there are no more direct flights from Russia. “I don’t think that we actually had it in our view or thought process that they would take this market away,” she said.
Cavanagh believes the DHS decision has probably something to do with asylum. Although there are no asylum cases here, there are plenty of such cases in Guam, she added.
The revocation of the parole program for Russian tourists was also unexpected because it is such a small market for the CNMI. “It’s rather a shock because I was actually on vacation when…they announced it,” she said, adding that she did not expect that to happen.
Cavanagh said she would understand if there were a lot of asylum seekers here, but since most of the asylum seekers are in Guam, it didn’t make sense to include the CNMI in the equation.
“It is just such a small wonderful niche of a market that we have here on Saipan that we have had for years. So those particular customers will [going to] be missed,” she said.
Last month, Marianas Visitors Authority board chair Marian Aldan-Pierce said she was surprised and disappointed with the federal government’s sudden decision to end parole for Russian tourists, which MVA believes will mean the loss of thousands of dollars for the CNMI’s fragile economy almost overnight.
Aldan-Pierce said they are particularly concerned that the federal government made the sudden decision without consulting the CNMI or giving it notice that it was ending the Commonwealth’s access to a critical source market.
According to DHS notice published in the Federal Register, as of Oct. 3, 2019, Russian nationals will be unable to enter both the CNMI and Guam for business or pleasure under the discretionary parole authority.
Aldan-Pierce said the CNMI has sought to grow Russian market since Russian tourists first started arriving in 2005.
In 2005, the CNMI had only 250 arrivals from Russia. The number grew over the years to a high of approximately 14,000 annual Russian arrivals in 2014.
While the number of Russian tourists has declined, MVA has noted that each Russian family typically stays longer and spends more.