MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, Jan. 17) - The Marshall Islands immigration department doubled the number of its inspectors earlier this month, increasing from five to 10, in response to reports of numerous illegal aliens in the islands.

Immigration chief Isaac Lanwi said in an interview Wednesday that he expects this to be a major factor in improving immigration’s ability to police the airports and ports, and to identify illegal aliens.

"The new inspectors will be doing a lot of field work," he said. "We’ll be increasing spot checking at local businesses and construction sites."

Lanwi said that a benefit of increased immigration inspections is that immigration will be checking alien worker documentation with tax records. This will help the Ministry of Finance and Social Security collect taxes, he said.

Lanwi also intends to target "sponsors" who he says are bringing nationals of Asian nations into the Marshall Islands under false pretenses. Many of the incoming people "are not at fault", he said, adding that some of the aliens who overstayed their visas told immigration officials they didn’t receive salaries as promised and had numerous other problems with employers.

In the mid-1990s, the Marshall Islands sold passports to about 2,000 people, mostly in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. While the program was shut down in 1996 in response to complaints from the U.S. State Department about abuses in the program, dozens of people who bought passports migrated to Majuro beginning in the late 1990s, establishing businesses and residences. Local officials say that this started a flow of other Asians — non-passport holders — traveling to Majuro, particularly as Majuro previously had very lax immigration regulations and enforcement.

Lanwi said he wants to see new visa regulations that were drafted months ago approved to reduce the flow of people who turn into illegal aliens. "I’d like to see those regulations go through," he said this week. "It would be beneficial to everyone."

The proposed regulations were drafted in mid-2002 in response to an increasing number of citizens from Asian nations — principally China — who over-stayed visas, requiring deportation action by the government. The attorney general’s office has charged more than 15 over-stayers in the High Court, and another 30 are about to be charged shortly, according to officials.

One new requirement that already has been implemented by immigration is that Asian visitors must apply in advance for a visa. But assuming they meet the basic criteria, they are granted one month visitors visas on arrival and can extend up to 90-days provided they show they can support themselves financially, he said.

Among the proposed new regulations is a requirement that people would have to deposit a sum of money adequate to cover roundtrip air fare home before flying to Majuro, he said.

January 17, 2003

For additional reports from the Marianas Variety, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/ Marianas Variety. 

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