Hotel groups want unique visa for Chinese tourists

Crowne Plaza Resort Saipan (Photo: IHG)

The two largest businesses groups in the Commonwealth of Northern Marianas (CNMI) are pleading for the administration of Governor Arnold I. Palacios and other local officials to support the creation and implementation of the proposed CNMI Economic Vitality & Security Travel Authorisation Programme (EVS-TAP).

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the CNMI EVS-TAP will allow prescreened nationals of the People’s Republic of China to travel to the CNMI without a visa under specified conditions. 

In a joint letter addressed to CNMI leaders Thursday, the Saipan Chamber of Commerce and Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands (HANMI) said the EVS-TAP will address concerns about the discretionary parole programme that do not hinder the CNMI’s economic growth

Aside from Palacios, the Chamber and HANMI joint letter was addressed to Lt Gov David M. Apatang, Delegate Gregorio Kilili Sablan, Senate President Edith Deleon Guerrero and members of the CNMI Senate, and House Speaker Edmund Villagomez and members of the House of Representatives, among others. 

The letter was in response to the letter some U.S. lawmakers sent to Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas concerning the entry of nationals from the People’s Republic of China into the CNMI. 

That letter called for the abolition of the discretionary parole programme, through which PRC nationals are allowed entry to the CNMI as tourists. 

“The 30 November 2023, letter from members of the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives addressed long-standing concerns about the use of discretionary parole for PRC nationals entering the CNMI for tourism. The business community recognises the importance of addressing security issues but emphasises the need for solutions that do not hinder the CNMI’s economic recovery, which is heavily dependent on tourism,” the Chamber and HANMI letter said. 

Both the Chamber and HANMI highlighted the significant impact of the Chinese tourism market on the CNMI economy and stressed the need for a balanced approach that ensures border security while supporting economic recovery. 

“The Chinese tourism market has made a significant impact on the CNMI economy since the institution of the discretionary parole on the market, they said. 

“In providing for the growth of the second largest tourism market to the Commonwealth, tourists from China have given rise to the expansion of local employment, growth of small businesses, and provided significant amounts of government revenue to our community reliant on tourism arrivals alone to sustain commercial activity. 

“Unlike Guam or the larger United States, the CNMI relies solely on the tourism industry to maintain a viable economy, and as such, we remain more vulnerable than any other jurisdiction to federal policy restricting access to visitors.” 

As a possible solution, the Chamber and HANMI are looking to CNMI lawmakers to propose the implementation of the CNMI EVS-TAP, which was first proposed in 2019 and aims to enhance security measures while ensuring the orderly entry of Chinese nationals for tourism purposes. It is a subprogramme of the Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver programme. 

“EVS-Tap was designed by the federal government to address security concerns and the orderly entry of tourists, including those from PRC,” Chamber president Joe Guerrero said. 

“We hope that once this is implemented, which we hope would be implemented very soon, the federal partners see the urgency and it would be most ideal to implement the EVS-TAP at the same time the discretionary parole ends.

The proposed EVS-TAP programme involves electronic screening, a maximum 14-day stay, and exploration of additional security measures for PRC nationals. 

The Chamber and HANMI urge federal leaders to consider this solution, emphasising the unique economic challenges faced by the CNMI and the potential adverse effects of restrictive federal policies on tourism-dependent economies.