By ERWIN ENCINARES
Like Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP), Rep. Joseph “Lee Pan” Guerrero (R-Saipan) worries about the possible termination of the parole authority and its repercussions on the growth of the CNMI economy.
Guerrero told Saipan Tribune on Wednesday that he fears for the CNMI economy if the Trump administration decides to end the Marianas parole authority.
“It’s alarming that our delegate in Washington, D.C. came up strongly with that [statement],” he said, referring to Sablan saying that he is on alert to the possibility of the CNMI losing its parole authority.
Guerrero chairs the House Committee on Commerce and Tourism.
“If the Trump administration is sincere with terminating the parole, then how can we as the CNMI sustain our economy here?” asked Guerrero.
The tourism industry, which is the CNMI’s main driving force, relies on about 550,000 visitors from South Korea, China, and Japan.
With the Marianas losing direct access to Japan due to Delta Air Lines’ suspension of Narita-Saipan flights, the CNMI will lean heavily on South Korea and China for its tourists.
South Korea is included in the Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver Program while China relies on the Marianas parole authority–a program that allows Russian and Chinese tourists to enter the CNMI for a number of days. Both Chinese and South Korean tourists comprise over 40 percent of the total number of CNMI visitors.
The Marianas parole authority could be terminated via presidential executive order, which is Sablan’s and Guerrero’s fear.
“We might not receive the same number [of tourists] as we see now with the parole authority [for China],” said Guerrero.
Chinese tourists may still enter the CNMI without the Marianas parole authority, but they will have to first secure a U.S. visa.
“What we need to do is find the issue that is confronting the Trump administration. Are they comparing [the CNMI] to stateside? [The CNMI] is not even in the same capacity in terms of population and land size; we are a small island out here in the Pacific Ocean,” said Guerrero, adding that the local government is trying its best to rectify any issues.
Sablan earlier assured that he would use his congressional authorities and powers to reinstate a system that fixes problems we know exist while maintaining our unique access to Chinese tourists—access that has been so critical to our economic recovery.”
Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, in a statement Monday, said the continuation of the Marianas parole authority is “in the best interest of the Commonwealth.”
Torres warns the White House and U.S. Congress to be cautious of the policy rhetoric used and that working together, “we could get a lot done…to strengthen the economic viability of the CNMI for the long term.”