SAIPAN, 16 MARCH 2017 (MARIANAS VARIETY)— CNMI Governor Ralph Torres says his administration is willing to reduce total tourist arrivals “if the continued actions of certain operators jeopardize the success of the wider economy.”


In a March 12, 2017 letter to Commonwealth Ports Authority board chairman Jose R. Lifoifoi, Torres expressed “serious concerns regarding the number of visitors attempting to enter the CNMI as tourists under the discretionary parole authority granted by the Department of Homeland Security when their intent is to enter the CNMI to work.”

The governor said “this practice is not to be tolerated and we must do more within our local authority to hold all individuals accountable who are assisting in this practice.”

He said he has “spoken to members of our private sector and airline operators [regarding] this concern to stress the need for them to understand the long-term repercussions if no action is taken, and I would recommend that the [CPA] board similarly review the authority you have to assist in the elimination of this practice at our borders.”

Torres urged the CPA board to “undertake a review of all airlines to account for the frequency each airline transports a passenger who attempts to circumvent our laws and develop a policy to terminate flights that continue to transport individuals who attempt to enter the CNMI to work under the guise of being tourists.”

He said “this problem is of such great concern to me because the CNMI’s continued access to the China market represents a significant contributor to our economy. Since authorised to allow Chinese nationals to enter the CNMI under the discretionary parole authority, our economy has grown by 16 percent, business revenues have increased by 41 percent, and the employment of U.S. citizens has increased by 9 percent. If the practice of individuals attempting to enter the CNMI to work illegally continues, we are at risk of crippling the entire economy and reverting to the severe economic depression we experienced only a few short years ago.”

Torres added, “It is absolutely critical to our economy and the many families that have finally begun to realize the benefits of our economic growth that we do all we can to be responsible partners in the protection of our nation’s borders.”

Torres also made recommendations to CPA regarding the prolonged wait times of tourists arriving at the Saipan airport.

According to the governor, the Saipan airport “is the most crucial public infrastructure component in our economy. The reputation and brand identity of the CNMI tourism sector relies on providing the best possible experience for each and every visitor from the moment they arrive up until their departure from our islands. It is my belief that the local authorities can pursue options to ensure that our tourists will not experience wait times that are hampering our international reputation.”

He said “in recognition of the serious concern these extended wait times have on our tourism industry, I want to offer the [CPA] board two recommendations for consideration.”

The first recommendation is for CPA to “segment the arriving passengers by visa classification prior to entering into the U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing area.”

Torres said CPA, “along with our airline partners,” should “create separate lines for each flight before entering the CBP entryway to accommodate U.S. citizens, and visitors entering under the visa waiver program, [Electronic System for Travel Authorisation] and other visa classifications, and allow these passengers entry into CBP processing first before the processing of those entering under the discretionary parole programme without a visa.”

Torres said the discretionary parole of Chinese nationals, “while essential to our continued economic growth, requires additional processing time for each passenger, thereby increasing the waiting times for all international passengers.”

His second recommendation is to “consider evaluating the timeslots provided to arriving airlines to provide each flight additional time to process their passengers through CBP and CNMI Customs inspection.”

He added, “It has been brought to my attention that certain flights are scheduled to arrive with as little as five minutes between them. Increasing the intervals between flights will limit the length of lines and the time it takes for passenger to undergo border processing. I understand that airline operators are utilising this period of the day to make use of their equipment between its use in other destinations. However, I encourage CPA to develop a schedule of arrivals that allows for the reasonable spacing of incoming flights, and be willing to cancel flights that are unable to operate within the standards set by the board and CPA.”

Earlier this month, CNMI House members met with U.S. CBP Director for CNMI Robert Havens to discuss the long lines and waiting time in the airport’s immigration screening area.

In an email to Variety on 09 March9, 2017, the CBP’s Northern Border and Coastal Waters Branch, All Major U.S. International Airports and Seaports-Border Patrol and Air and Marine Operations, Office of Public Affairs gave the following statement:

“U.S. Customs and Border Protection is aware of the growing concerns regarding wait times at [the] Saipan International Airport. CBP representatives have been working with both local and federal government officials to find a viable solution. CBP Director of Field Operations Brian J. Humphrey will be in Saipan on April 10th and 11th for scheduled official meetings with Governor Torres, [U.S.] Congressman Sablan and the Marianas Visitors Authority.”….PACNEWS [/restrict]