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Commonwealth Of The Northern Marianas Islands

US congressional delegation visits Saipan island

Bruce A. Bateman, eTN Ambassador  Aug 10, 2009

A cadre’ of 6 Congresspersons are on Saipan island for a three-day, fact-finding tour this week. American Samoa Congressman Eni Faleomavaega, US Virgin Islands Congresswoman Donna M. Christensen, CNMI Congressman Gregorio C. Sablan, West Virginia Congressman Nick Rahall, South Carolina Congressman Henry Brown, and Guam Congresswoman Madeleine Z. Bordallo will meet with a variety of groups before heading back to Washington, DC. Local residents and businessmen alike hope they find that it is permissible for Russian and Chinese, who contribute approximately 20 percent of the islands' income, to continue coming.

Recently the US has decided to step in and take control of immigration into and out of the Northern Marianas. There has been a series of protests as the local government, businesses, the hotel association, and the general population tries to get the US to continue allowing Russian and Chinese visitors to arrive on Saipan with a simple visa waiver once the take-over occurs.

The CNMI has worked diligently over a ten-year period to build these markets up from virtually nothing and now faces a 95 percent loss of visitors from both Russia and China in the face of a full-scale US Visa entry requirement according to regional tourist specialists. Over the 10 years, literally no immigration problems have occurred with either Chinese or Russian guests, but their fate hangs in the balance as does the fragile economy of this island nation.

Fourteen islands comprise the Commonwealth with three of them developed and relying on tourism as the only industry and source of income. Saipan, Tinian, and Rota are inhabited and attract many visitors from Japan, Korea, China, Russia, Australia, and the US looking for warmth, relaxation, and the many activities found there - until November 28 of this year, that is. After that date, guests from Russia and China will have a 3-stage, multiple-trip exercise to go through in acquiring a US visa before being allowed to enter. Most simply won’t bother according to experts.

US congressional delegation visits Saipan island
Congressional Delegation / Photo from Bruce A. Bateman

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