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Most are resigned to accepting new federal rules

By Moneth Deposa

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, August 19, 2009) - Most Korean businessmen on island want the federalization of CNMI immigration to push through as scheduled in November, not because they support the idea but in the belief that more delays in its implementation would further hurt and kill their investments on Saipan in the long run.

Rhee Gyunggu, president of the Korean Association of Saipan, disclosed this yesterday to Saipan Tribune, saying that, although they are split in their views and opinion about federalization, the instability of not knowing what will happen next is proving detrimental to their businesses.

He said that in their 23 years of doing business on Saipan, this year has been the worst ever recorded in the business history of majority of Koreans here.

He admitted that most Korean businesses were initially opposed to federalization but since it is already law, then they can’t do anything about it anymore.

"We don’t want federalization because we know it would kill our investments here. But we have no choice," he said.

The association members, he said, are not also convinced that federalization would give "security" to their investments. Rather, they believe it would place more stress on their businesses.

Besides the possible entry of mostly U.S. business competitors, Gyunggu said that existing businesses may not be able to keep the needed workforce as a result of "expenses" to be incurred in securing visas for the workers.

The Department of Homeland Security had delayed the first implementation of the NMI federalization from June 1 to Nov. 28. A request to delay it further to 2010 is on the table at present.

But Gyunggu said the more federalization is delayed, the more would it cause worries for them.

"As long as we’re clueless on what will really happen after Nov. 28, worries will remain with us. Let this happen as scheduled and from there, we can adjust and plan for our businesses here," he said, adding that the fate of some Korean businesses will be decided after finding out the actual "effect" of federalization.

Some Koreans who are employees of various firms and business have a different view of federalization, believing this will give them "unlimited stay or employment," which the association president believes is unlikely to happen.

Gyunggu admitted that since the beginning of the fiscal year, about 40 Korean businesses have already closed shop due to the slow economy, the minimum wage hike, and issues about federalization.

He said since the slowdown in the CNMI’s tourism industry, Korean businesses have started to suffer.

"I know a lot of Korean businessmen who closed shops and left.after so many years of doing business here," he said.

Based on the association’s record, there are 112 businesses that are registered and are members of the group. However, Gyunggu believes that there are about 500 small and large Korean investments on island, including nonmembers of the association.

He said majority of Korean businesses that are still on island are holding on to the hope that the military buildup in Guam would benefit the CNMI.

"That’s the only hope they’re seeing . and they’re holding on to that," he said.

Gyunggu owns three businesses on island, including laundry services for hotels, water treatment for companies, and leasing some office spaces.

Next week, the Korean consul in Guam will be meeting with the association to listen and discuss issues about CNMI federalization. From there, a consensus among members is expected to be expressed by the group.

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