Thursday, November 19, 2009

 Bordallo Backs Off: No Longer 'Pushing' China Visa Waivers For Guam

Bordallo Backs Off: No Longer 'Pushing' China Visa Waivers For Guam

Imminent Takeover Of CNMI's Immigration Dampens Territorial Resolve

Written by Jeff Marchesseault, Guam News Factor Staff Writer
Wednesday, 18 November 2009 10:55

GUAM - Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo appears to be backing away from a recent announcement that she would push for 45-day Guam visa waivers for visitors from China and Russia.

If she hasn't given up entirely, then she may be recalibrating her benchmarks. Until now, local leaders have harbored hope that tying Guam's visa-waiver dreams to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands' might make a difference.

But inasmuch as the CNMI's labor and immigration is about to be federalized (on November 28th) and the Department of Homeland Security has already temporarily granted Russia/China visa waiver allowances for the Commonwealth without allowing the same waivers in the Territory, it's no longer a front-burner issue for Guam.

A media release sent to Guam from Bordallo's Washington, D.C. office this morning says that she met with Homeland Security officials in Washington on the semantics of a new visa waiver program for the Northern Marianas and Guam, but the release makes no mention of her previously stated commitment to keep pushing for China and Russia visa waivers for Guam.

Last month Guam News Factor reported that Bordallo was pressing Homeland for answers on why only the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands was granted visa waivers for Russia and China by way of an interim rule. This temporary rule will, in effect, allow for the continuation of a policy of letting Russians and Chinese into the Commonwealth, even after federalization of the CNMI's labor and immigration this November 28th. Meanwhile, Guam was was denied the same visa waivers and only granted an additoinal waiver for Hong Kong visitors.

In an October 23rd news release, Bordallo stated, "In my letter to Secretary Napolitano, I asked that she continue to adhere to the Congressional intent of Public Law 110-229 and that Russia and China ultimately be extended to the full Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver Program once the final
rule is published."

The day before that comment, Bordallo stated, "I will continue to work with my colleagues and the Department of Homeland Security to ensure an expanded tourist market for Guam over the coming years. We will review the new DHS policy and we will work to ensure that the final rule that DHS will issue at a later time takes into account the Congressional intent in establishing a regional visa waiver program for Guam and the CNMI."

Today, Bordallo only goes as far as this: "I will continue to work with my colleagues in Congress and DHS to ensure that this law is fully implemented according to the intent of Congress."

Bordallo, who chairs the Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife, expressed her concerns more fervently in a May 19th release:

"I am concerned that implementation of Public Law 110-229 by the Department of Homeland Security will not fulfill its intended purpose of expanding tourism and economic development in Guam and the CNMI," Congresswoman Bordallo said today. "The Subcommittee will continue to work with the Department of Homeland Security, other federal agencies, and local leaders from Guam and the CNMI to ensure that the concerns raised at today's oversight are addressed adequately and in a timely manner."

If Bordallo is still committed to the process of establishing Russia or China visa waiver status for Guam, she may now be more or less resigned to a slower time-table for the allowance of such waivers in the Territory.

Unlike Guam, the CNMI has relied on the relatively hassle-free entry of Russian and China tourists for years, reportedly has an effective immigration tracking and control system, and has established a justifiable economic need for their continued free-flowing admission.

According to a September 10, 2008 joint resolution of the two-house CNMI Legislature:

-The Commonwealth has, over the past ten years, developed a highly effective arrival and departure control system that has provided for the carefully monitored arrival and departure of a significant number of Russian and Chinese tourists to and from the Commonwealth, as well as effective bonding requirements in the case of Chinese tourists.

-During that period of time, approximately 400,000 Russian and Chinese tourists have entered the Commonwealth and there have been zero incidents of Russian tourists overstaying and approximately one dozen incidents of Chinese tourists overstaying during those ten years, all of which were successfully resolved in a timely manner.

-During 2007, Russian tourists acconted for 1% of total visitor arrivals in the Commonwealth and 5% of total visitor expenditures and Chinese tourists accounted for 10% of total visitor arrivals and 13% of total visitor expenditures, which in aggregate represent over one-tenth of total visitor arrivals and nearly one-fifth of visitor expenditures in the Commonwealth.

-Those tourists have not represented a threat to the welfare, safety, or security of the United States or its territories.

Guam, on the other hand, does not have such a track record of visa-free entry for Russian and Chinese tourists, so its economic justification for allowing visa waivers for Russians and Chinese may not be as strong as the CNMI's, in the eyes of DHS.

John Dela Rosa contributed to this analysis.

Here is an official update from Bordallo's Washington Office:
Congresswoman Bordallo Meets With DHS On P.L. 110-229

November 17, 2009 – Washington, D.C. – Congresswoman Madeleine Z. Bordallo today was briefed by officials from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on the implementation of Public Law 110-229 on the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) and Guam. The meeting took place in Congresswoman Bordallo's office in the Cannon House Office Building on Capitol Hill. The Congresswoman requested the briefing after Secretary Janet Napolitano of DHS announced her use of parole authority to allow visitors of China and Russia to continue visiting the CNMI.

"During the meeting, we discussed the implementation of the new joint Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver program, and how the parole authority will be exercised by Secretary Napolitano for Chinese and Russian visitors to the CNMI," Congresswoman Madeleine Z. Bordallo said today. "The DHS officials stated that the parole authority process will mirror the process currently in place for visitors arriving from countries under the current national visa waiver program. I remain confident that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will be ready to fully implement the federalization of immigration in the CNMI on November 28, 2009. In addition, the new Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver Program, which will allow visitors to visit for 45 days, will have a positive long term effect in the visitor industry. I will continue to work with my colleagues in Congress and DHS to ensure that this law is fully implemented according to the intent of Congress."

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