President Joe Biden approved the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Gov. Ralph DLG Torres' request for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to reinclude Hong Kong into the CNMI visa waiver program, the governor's office announced Friday.
In his April 8 letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Torres issued a formal request for the waiver.
Torres commended the Biden administration for its support amid the COVID
-19 pandemic, but emphasized the importance of resuming tourism with trusted travel partners in order to support the long-term well-being of the people of the CNMI.
“Reinclusion 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. 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 wrote.
After the Friday morning call approving the waiver, Torres issued a statement thanking the Biden administration, Mayorkas and DHS for their approval and for their support and recognition of the CNMI for leading the nation in handling the COVID
-19 pandemic. "This is a great first step, and I also thank our community for supporting us in our road to recovery," he said.
Hailing it as "big news", Torres said the waiver allows the CNMI to reopen tourism with stable partners, which now include South Korea and Hong Kong.
"Hong Kong has seen no local COVID
-19 cases for a month, and they are gradually getting their people vaccinated," he said. “Any plans for resuming tourism will always prioritize the health and safety of our people first. 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."
The eventual plan with Hong Kong includes building on "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."
The move will translate to bigger economic growth, providing jobs and boosting small businesses, restaurants and hotels, he said.