Rep. Joseph Leepan T. Guerrero (R-Saipan) said CNMI officials should explore options in order to solve the issues of long lines at the airport’s arrival section. He said there are also reports that even the waiting time at the baggage area and clearance at the local Division of Customs have allegedly experienced delays.
“There are complaints that visitors coming in allegedly have longer waiting time at the baggage area, and there’s also long lines of clearance at Customs,” Guerrero told Saipan Tribune.
He said that his committee plans to meet with Customs chief Jose C. Mafnas where they want to observe how they operate and clarify the issues involving the said agency. “Actually, we do not want to point fingers and blame Customs, because they also have their own duties and responsibility.”
“As officers, they make sure no contraband or illegal items are brought in to the CNMI. I have to applaud that they are diligently and vigorously doing their mandate. They have been enforcing the law to make sure illegal items would be confiscated,” said Guerrero.
He added the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol is undermanned to process all passengers entering the CNMI since flights usually simultaneously arrive at the Francisco C. Ada-Saipan International Airport.
CBP is facing a shortage in personnel since most of its officers in the mainland don’t want to relocate in the CNMI with finances as one of the issues in moving to the Commonwealth with their families.
“They don’t want to come this far from the mainland. And CBP is trying to recruit and hoping to have pool of locals qualified to become officers. We’re hoping they would speed up the process of hiring and training locals to become CBP officers,” added Guerrero, the House Committee on Commerce and Tourism chair.
Installing kiosks that have automated processing machines, for machine-readable passports, is another option according to Guerrero. “Automated processing machines would help speed up the movement of tourists and would avoid longer lines.”
“Installing these is a good idea. We’ve heard that [the Marianas Visitors Authority] is planning to procure one or two machines. Hope they would move quickly with this and get a machine installed in an area at the arrival that would not cause congestion.”
Guerrero said the best option of installing the said machine is in a spacious area where visitors and other passengers arriving would have an easier time getting out.
He added that he would also suggest to Gov. Ralph DLG Torres of having the Commonwealth Ports Authority meet with the airlines that operate in the CNMI to fix their arrival schedule.
“We might need to have a staggered time with their arrivals. For example, if Asiana is coming in at around 2am, then Jeju Air could arrive at maybe 3am. This would give CBP ample time to process Asiana visitors first and won’t cause any hold up or backlog in processing their documents,” said Guerrero.