Administration Is About to Cave to CNMI Employers on Visa-Free Chinese

By David North on January 18, 2024

As children we were told not to send coal to Newcastle on the grounds that that little British community (and one-time mining town) had all it needed and more.

Now Joe Biden (former member of the New Castle County Commission in Delaware) is about to let Chinese “tourists” get visa-free travel to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) north of Guam. The grant would not relate to the rest of the U.S., just to that U.S. territory, whose labor market has been dominated by foreign workers from China and the Philippines for years, both legal and illegal.

CNMI already has a loose labor market because there is a (Chinese- and Filipino-dominated) foreign worker program that applies only to those islands, the CW program, and that program is under-subscribed, as we noted earlier.

But CNMI’s little employer class is greedy for more tourists — just about the only source of revenue for these largely resource-free islands — and for foreign workers to keep wages down. The first desire is expressed publicly, the second one is not.

A source in the islands has been warning me for weeks that this move was coming and it was confirmed on January 17 by Law360, which stated:

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is on track to implement a program allowing pre-screened Chinese nationals to travel to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands visa-free for up to 14 days, DHS said in an interim final rule.


The pre-screening, presumably, will the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) scheme that is used elsewhere in the visa-free program.

CNMI’s employers’ upcoming victory is just one more instance of their ability to bend Washington to their wishes. That there are three ports of entry on the three islands, two within sight of each other, represents earlier victories by the CNMI establishment; that is three federally funded ports of entry in a territory with a population of 49,481.