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More US immigration woes for the Northern Marianas

Russians, Chinese target visa loop-holes

the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands has received a five-year extension of a critical programme allowing it continued access to some 10,000 foreign workers up to 2019 for its recovering economy. But it still faces other key immigration issues, most of which are waiting United States Congress actions. Among these issues is the CNMI’s request to extend its exemption from accepting asylum applicants beyond January 1, 2015. Governor Eloy S. Inos and the CNMI’s non-voting delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives, Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP), said allowing the asylum provision of U.S. law to apply to the CNMI starting in 2015 would open the floodgates for asylum seekers coming to the U.S. territory as tourists.

The governor and the delegate are particularly concerned about tourists from China who, under a U.S. Department of Homeland Security programme that has helped boost the CNMI’s tourism numbers since 2009, are allowed visa-free entry to the Commonwealth. Chinese and Russian tourists can stay in the CNMI for up to 45 days without being required to secure a U.S. visa. In past years, most applicants for refugee protection were from China.

They claimed they would be persecuted or killed for political or religious reasons if they were sent back to China. Moreover, tourists from China have been engaging in so-called “birth tourism” in which a pregnant woman enters the CNMI as a tourist for the purpose of giving birth to an automatic U.S. citizen child. Allowing the CNMI to start accepting asylum applicants could also catch the ire of the Chinese government, which could pull the plug not only on airlines servicing the China-CNMI route but also disallow its people from traveling to this U.S. territory, officials said.

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