‘Any such an action with the China market would cripple the CNMI economy overnight’
The federal government’s decision to end parole for Russian tourists took the Marianas Visitors Authority aback and disappointed the agency, believing this will mean an almost overnight loss of thousands of dollars for the CNMI’s fragile economy.
Of more concern to the MVA is that the federal government made this sudden decision without consulting or giving notice to the CNMI that it would be ending the Commonwealth’s access to a critical source market for tourists.
MVA board chair Marian Aldan-Pierce said Friday that this is prompting the MVA to refocus its efforts in Washington, D.C. to ensure that what happened with the Russia market does not happen to the China market, which also relies on parole authority to be able to enter the CNMI.
She said any such an action by the federal government with China market would cripple the CNMI economy overnight.
At present, Chinese tourists are allowed to enter the CNMI through the parole program, without requiring them to first secure a U.S. visa in China.
Russian nationals are now prohibited from entering both Guam and the CNMI under the discretionary parole authority after the U.S. Department of Homeland Security rescinded a 2009 decision to allow Chinese and Russian nationals to enter both territories.
According to the DHS notice published in the Federal Register, Russian nationals will be unable to enter both CNMI and Guam for business or pleasure under the discretionary parole authority effective Oct. 3, 2019.
Aldan-Pierce pointed out that the Russian market is a critical source market that the CNMI has sought to grow since Russian tourists first started arriving in the CNMI in 2005—over 14 years—and many jobs in the CNMI will be impacted as a result of the new DHS decision.
When the program started in 2005, the CNMI only had 250 visitor arrivals from Russia. The number grew over the years to a high of approximately 14,000 Russian arrivals in 2014.
“Since that time, the numbers have declined and this year we were on track for approximately 2,000 arrivals,” Aldan-Pierce said.
While the number has declined, MVA has noted that each Russian family typically stays longer and spends more than others.
With China, Aldan-Pierce said they are presently working to protect the China parole program, as it is the bedrock of the CNMI’s economy.
Aldan-Pierce said they plan to work with Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP), as well as with Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ administration and others in the House of Representatives and Senate to ensure that policymakers in Washington, D.C. understand how vital the Chinese parole program is to the CNMI economy.
She said the White House released a draft report from the 902 Consultations, which indicated they would make modifications to the China parole program.
Aldan-Pierce said they understand that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will be formulating regulations on the China parole program in the coming months.
“Details matter immensely when regulations are written, and the MVA plans to work tirelessly to ensure that the CNMI has a vibrant tourism market for many years to come,” she said.
Torres and U.S. Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas Douglas W. Domenech, who were the representatives of the CNMI and the U.S. federal government for the 902 Consultation, respectively, made four recommendations, among them to modify the discretionary parole program of DHS to reduce the maximum period of parole from 45 days to 14 days and electronic screening and vetting prior to arrival at the port of entry.
When asked about any plan to open a new source market for the CNMI, Aldan-Pierce said MVA is always looking for ways to expand and secure the CNMI’s tourism economy.
Presently, MVA is working to re-vitalize the Japan market.