Update for Chinese: Visa-Free Travel to CNMI, but Still Not Guam

Update: Aug. 3, 2012

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) says it’s still not ready to allow Chinese to participate in Guam’s visas waiver program (VWP).

In contrast, Russians have been unable to enter under the VWP since January 15, 2012.

DHS explained its reasoning for excluding Chinese from the VWP back in 2009:

[D]ue to political, security, and law enforcement concerns, including high nonimmigrant visa refusal rates and concerns with cooperation regarding the repatriation of citizens, subjects, nationals and residents of the country subject to a final order of removal, nationals of the PRC … are not eligible to participate in the Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver Program….

Allowing Chinese to participate in the VWP could significantly boost the island’s total annual revenues. Hawaii would like to profit from a similar VWP.

Guam is the closest U.S. destination to Asia and a gateway to North America.

Chinese, may, however, be “paroled” into Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands (CNMI) without visas.

One key legal difference between Guam and CNMI is that U.S. laws related to applying for political asylum apply only in the former. Under U.S. Public Law 110-229, which placed CNMI immigration under federal control, applications for political asylum may not be filed in CNMI before Jan. 1, 2014. That reduces the risk that parolees to CNMI will attempt to prolong their stays by applying for asylum. (In fact, CNMI’s governor has asked that the asylum exemption be extended.) In contrast, if the Guam VWP program were to include Chinese, some unknown percentage would likely apply for asylum.

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Update: Oct. 21, 2009

Today the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands (CNMI) has authority to “parole” in Chinese nationals visiting for business or pleasure.

The term “parole” sounds ominous, but in fact means that Chinese may be admitted without first obtaining a U.S. visa if they meet the following requirements:

  • Have a round-trip ticket that is nonrefundable and nontransferable.
  • Stay for no more than 45 days.
  • Enter CNMI on an airlines which participates in the Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver Program.

Parole authorizes entry into CNMI only, and not to Guam or other areas of the U.S.

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Update: Jan. 19, 2009

A new visa waiver program has been implemented for Guam and the Commonwealth of Northern Marianas Islands (CNMI). U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) regulations for the program were published January 16, 2009. But Chinese passport holders are not eligible for visa waivers, meaning that visas continue to be necessary for Chinese to travel to Guam and CNMI.

The Territory of Guam is an island in the western Pacific and is an organized, unincorporated insular area of the U.S. And CNMI is a commonwealth in political union with the United States. The immigration laws of the U.S. apply in both Guam and CNMI.

The program begins June 1, 2009. It allows nonimmigrant visitors who are citizens of certain countries to seek admission for business or pleasure and solely for entry into and stay on Guam or CNMI without a visa for a period of authorized stay of no longer than 45 days.

By law, in determining which countries can participate in the visa waiver program, the DHS Secretary is required to consider numerous factors, including whether the country provides a “significant economic benefit” to CNMI; immigration law compliance by the country’s nationals (rates of nonimmigrant visa refusals and overstays); the country’s cooperation in immigration law enforcement (electronic travel authorizations, procedures for reporting lost and stolen passports, repatriation of aliens); and whether the country poses a threat to U.S. welfare, safety, or security.

The countries approved for the program are: Australia, Brunei, Hong Kong (Hong Kong SAR or BNO passport and Hong Kong identification card is required), Japan, Malaysia, Nauru, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom.

The DHS Secretary determined that visitors from China do provide a significant economic benefit to CNMI, with 5,019 visitors arriving to CNMI (10% of all visitors) spending $38 million per year ($967 per visitor). These figures count only CNMI, not Guam. However, the Secretary decided to exclude China from the visa waiver program:

At this time, however, due to political, security, and law enforcement concerns, including high nonimmigrant visa refusal rates and concerns with cooperation regarding the repatriation of citizens, subjects, nationals and residents of the country subject to a final order of removal, nationals of the PRC and Russia are not eligible to participate in the Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver Program when the program is implemented.

After additional layered security measures, which may include, but are not limited to, electronic travel authorization to screen and approve potential visitors prior to arrival in Guam and the CNMI, and other border security infrastructure, DHS will make a determination as to whether nationals of the PRC and Russia can participate in the Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver Program.

It seems to me that for China to be considered a “normal” country eligible to participate in U.S. immigration programs like this and the H-2B temporary worker program, key goals will be that China must provide further cooperation in accepting repatriation of its citizens ordered deported from the U.S., and the rate of nonimmigrant visa refusals will need to continue to drop. As of FY 2008, the adjusted B (visitor) visa refusal rate for Chinese was 18.2%.

Guam’s tourist industry had been optimistic that China would be allowed to participate in the visa waiver program. And Guam’s governor, Felix Camacho, remains cautiously optimistic that China can participate in the future.

Previously, Chinese were not included in Guam’s visa waiver program but were allowed into CNMI under the visitor entry permit program that existed before U.S. immigration laws became applicable under a 2008 law.

4 comments

  1. If the Chinese can visit CNMI without the visa, do you think the good entry and exit record may help this people in the future to obtain a B1/B2 visa to visit the U.S. ? Especially may benefit the people from like Fujian, Wenzhou etc.?

    1. One requirement for a B1/B2 visa is that the applicant prove to the consular officer’s satisfaction that the applicant has such compelling ties to his or her home country that it’s liekly the applicant will return after the U.S. visit. Those ties could be, for example, family, economic, and social. A prior history of international trips followed by returning home to China can be evidence of such strong ties. It’s not clear to me that visiting CNMI is stronger evidence than visiting other countries that, like the US, require visa applicants to prove nonimmigrant intent, such as Canada, UK, and European countries.

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