While terminating the parole authority that allows the CNMI to bring in Chinese and Russian tourists would be devastating to the local economy, Marianas Visitors Authority managing director Chris Concepcion said the possibility of that actually happening is remote.
“I think any talk of terminating parole authority for the CNMI is premature. The CNMI economy is heavily dependent on the tourism industry and to choke off China and Russia, which comprise 35 percent of arrivals to the CNMI, will be reckless on the part of the federal government, to say the least,” he said in an email to the Saipan Tribune.
The potential loss of the Commonwealth’s ability to continue to tap tourists from China and Russia, visa-free, was broached by Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) earlier this month.
He told reporters he fears the loss of the parole authority because, in essence, he believes President Donald J. Trump is out to undo several Obama-era initiatives using his executive powers.
Proof of this, Sablan said, is Trump revoking temporary and protected status for Haitians and El Salvadorans and ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, among others.
However, rather than destroy the local economy, Concepcion said the federal government should do everything in its power to make sure the CNMI economy moves forward and grow.
“The federal government should help the CNMI and not limit our economic development. The feds gave us parole authority to use as a tool to stimulate economic growth. We are doing just that and to take it away at such a critical time will be devastating for the tourism industry and for the entire CNMI economy,” he said.
Concepcion remains optimistic, though, that any idea about possibly terminating the parole authority are just that, ideas.
“At this point, it is premature to be discussing this scenario, so we’ll leave it at that. We trust that our elected leaders are doing their part to ensure economic stability by safeguarding the very tools the federal government gave us in order to lessen reliance on federal dollars. We need strong advocates to defend our interests at all times and at all levels of government,” he said.
Sablan had said in the same interview with reporters that the Trump administration may be looking at terminating parole authority because of the plethora of problems it has created, real or perceived.
He said field officers have been telling Washington, D.C. that parole is really hard to enforce, adding that overstaying tourists; working tourists; on-the-job deaths; minimum wage violations; birth tourism, and more could possibly jeopardize the parole authority under the administration.
Concepcion, however, said that the alleged problems are not entirely the local government’s fault.
“It’s helpful to remember that the CNMI does not control our borders anymore. When we did control our borders, we had a better handle on who came into the CNMI and who left the CNMI. At any given time we could locate overstayers easily. The fact that the feds who have enormous resources at their disposal can’t do the same should not mean that the CNMI gets punished for it,” he said.
To avoid any crisis created by suddenly barring a tourist market, the CNMI should not put all its eggs on one basket, he said.
While Korea and Japan make up roughly 60 percent of arrivals to the CNMI, for diversification purposes, Concepcion said it is healthy and wise to have a three-market approach—30 percent Japan, 30 percent Korea, and 30 percent China.
Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands chair Gloria Cavanagh, when reached for comment, told Saipan Tribune that it is a non-issue.
“HANMI has heard nothing of this. As far as we are concerned, this is just a rumor with no foundation. I have to believe that the U.S. government is not looking at destroying the economy of the CNMI,” she said.