Russian nationals seeking to enter the CNMI would soon be required to go through the process of first securing a U.S. visa at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow or at a U.S. consulate general elsewhere before they can be allowed to enter here.
This comes soon after the U.S. Department of Homeland Security rescinded a 2009 decision to allow Russian nationals to enter both territories under the discretionary parole authority.
As of Oct. 3, 2019, Russian nationals will be unable to enter both Guam and the CNMI for business or pleasure under the discretionary parole authority, according to the notice DHS published in the Federal Register.
Russian nationals who had already been paroled into Guam or the CNMI will maintain parole until the expiration of that parole period.
This comes soon after a steep drop in the number of Russian visitors to the CNMI and Guam in the last two fiscal years. Most of the CNMI’s Russian visitors were from Russian Far East. With no direct flights between Saipan and the Russian Far East region, Russian tourists are forced to transit through Korea or elsewhere.
The Federal Register noted that the parole authority for Russian nationals had been “exercised far too expansively than originally intended.” It noted that the parole authority accounted for about 99% of all Russian visitors in 2012 and 85% of all Russian visitors in 2017. In the CNMI, the parole authority accounted for about 90% of all Russian visitors in 2010 and 82% of all Russian visitors in 2017.
It further noted overstaying increases in Guam of over four times.
“Since the 2012 expansion of the discretionary parole authority for Russian nationals seeking entry into Guam, overstays increased from 26 in [fiscal year] 2012 to 147 in [fiscal year] 2017, or by 46%. While this represents a relatively small percentage of overall Russian visitors in the CNMI and Guam, the increase in overstays is in and of itself a security concern for DHS,” it noted.
DHS further noted that the discretionary parole authority functioned more as a “substitute for the visa process” for Russian nationals.
“The policy broadly announced to this population that a visitor visa would not be required to travel to Guam and the CNMI if the alien met the specific requirements,” the Federal Register noted.
The decision to rescind Russia from the parole authority was also based on the country’s eligibility to participate in the Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver Program. In the nearly 10-year period since the parole policies were announced, DHS noted that Russia has not been considered eligible to participate.
The discretionary parole authority was exercised in November 2009 when former DHS secretary Janet Napolitano announced DHS’ favorable consideration of the CNMI’s requests for discretionary parole for Russian nationals back in Oct. 21, 2009.
Under the discretionary parole authority, Russian nations may enter Guam and the CNMI—including travel between the two territories—for a period of up to 45 days if they are in compliance with some requirements such as an unexpired, machine-readable passport; a valid form I-94; among other requirements.
In fiscal year 2016 alone, the Marianas Visitors Authority noted a total of 1,645 Russian national-visitors while 1,991 Russian nationals were recorded to enter the CNMI within October to July 2017.
The official rule will be published tomorrow.
Chinese tourists are also able to enter the CNMI under the discretionary parole authority.