FEDS OPEN DOOR TO FOREIGN INVESTORS IN CNMI

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Special visa created to facilitate business deals

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Nov. 26, 2008 ) – While unlucky with its visa waiver request for China and Russia, the CNMI appears to have succeeded in getting the U.S. government to approve special consideration for the foreign investors now in the Commonwealth.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, in a "semi-annual regulatory plan" that appeared on the www.regulations.gov website yesterday, says a new visa classification will be created to help foreign investors in the CNMI as they prepare to convert from their local system to federalized system.

The new CNMI E2 Investor visa classification will be in effect during the transition period, which will end in 2014 at the earliest. According to the DHS document, most of the CNMI's foreign investors-including long-term business investors, perpetual foreign investors and foreign retiree investors-would be eligible for E2 Investor status.

The Legislature last month adopted a resolution calling for a longer transition period for foreign investors in the CNMI. The resolution came amid fears that many of the foreign investors in the Commonwealth would not qualify for the United States' investor visa categories once local immigration is federalized next year.

The DHS' regulation abstract notes that the CNMI had approximately 500 registered foreign investors in 2006 and 2007. Citing a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the abstract says these foreign investors and long-term business permit holders invested at least US$72 million in the CNMI in the past two years.

"This proposed regulation attempts to mitigate potential harm to the CNMI economy before the CNMI foreign investors are required to convert into United Status immigrant or nonimmigrant visa classifications," states the DHS document.

It adds, "The regulation is intended to assist CNMI investment permit holders to convert from their current status to a status covered under the [federal immigration law] during the transition period while considering their contributions to the well-being of the CNMI economy.

"The proposed regulation attempts to reduce the risk of losing substantial investments by including a majority of CNMI's current investor categories under the new E2 CNMI classification."

According to the Legislature's resolution, there are approximately 500 permits issued to foreign investors in the commonwealth. Foreign investment provided direct tax revenues to the CNMI government of nearly US$19.5 million in 2006 and over $16.5 million in 2007-about 10 percent of total government revenues in each of those years.

Foreign investors own or control over US$500 million in assets in the Northern Marianas. Combined, their companies provide jobs to over 1,700 U.S. citizens and their immediate relatives, representing 13 percent of the U.S. citizens and immediate relative workforce in the CNMI.

Saipan Tribune http://www.saipantribune.com

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