Hong Kong has been reinstated into the visa waiver program for the Northern Mariana Islands, reopening another market as the commonwealth jumpstarts its tourism, CNMI Gov. Ralph Torres announced today.
“Our plan with Hong Kong is to build on our Covid-19 protective measures, vaccination rate, and beautification efforts by all our community partners to gradually get our tourism back to a true sense of normalcy," Torres said in a statement.
"This means more economic growth, which provides our local people jobs, helps small businesses, restaurants, and hotels, and funds government services," he added.
Hong Kong has not reported local infections for a month and has administered 4.1 million doses of Covid-vaccines so far.
“Re-inclusion of Hong Kong allows us to better plan for the possibilities of resuming our tourism industry and is significant to the long-term well-being of the citizens residing in this region of the world," Torres said in his April 8 letter to U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, requesting the reinstatement of visa waiver for Hong Kong.
The Trump administration removed Hong Kong from the CNMI visa waiver program on July 14, 2020, apparently in retaliation to the Chinese government’s actions that imposed national security measures on the former British colony.
“We thank the Biden administration, most especially Secretary Mayorkas, and DHS for their approval of my request and for their support and recognition of the CNMI for leading the nation in handling the Covid-19 pandemic," Torres said.
Torres said the Biden administration's response to his request would support the CNMI's economic recovery.
"Our efforts to support a viable and prosperous American community here, and to build the foundations of economic diversification, rely on our ability to resume our tourism market,” Torres said, noting the need to resume tourism with trusted travel partners.
Torres said any plans for resuming tourism will always prioritize the health and safety of the community.
On July 1, the CNMI formally established a travel bubble with South Korea, officially rebooting its tourism that has been on pause for more than a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The agreement was signed in Seoul.
"We are committed to making sure our travel bubble with South Korea is done right to ensure the safety of both South Korean visitors and our community," Torres said.
Japan, which has been the CNMI's main source market for many decades, is currently out of the equation.
The Japanese government plans to declare another Covid-19 state of emergency in Tokyo until Aug. 22 to combat a recent surge in Covid-19 infections.
The Tokyo metropolitan government reported 920 new Covid-19 cases on Wednesday, the most since mid-May at the peak of Japan's fourth wave of infections.
Only 12.65 percent of Japan’s population of 125.83 million have been fully vaccinated.