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The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Transition to U.S. Immigration Law: Overview

The immigration laws of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) have been replaced by the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and other U.S. immigration laws. The definition of “United States” in the INA was simultaneously amended to include the CNMI—providing new privileges and easing restrictions to CNMI residents wishing to live and work in the United States. Although U.S. immigration law applies to the CNMI beginning November 28, 2009, the CNMI will undergo a transition period with temporary measures ending Dec. 31, 2014, to allow for an orderly transition and give individuals time to identify an appropriate visa classification under the INA. Read more about the transition on CBP.gov

Secretary Janet Napolitano announced the delayed transition to full application of the U.S. immigration provisions of Title VII of the Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008 (CNRA) until November 28, 2009.

Through the CNRA, U.S. immigration law was extended to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), a chain of 14 Pacific islands located near Guam.  The goal of this change is to ensure effective border control and uniform adherence to U.S. immigration policies and to ensure that national and homeland security issues are properly addressed. 

Before the enactment of the CNRA, only limited provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) applied to the CNMI. Title VII of the CNRA extended the INA and other provisions of U.S. immigration law to the CNMI now beginning on November 28, 2009, with special exceptions during a transition period of at least five years.   

Changes for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands

Prior to the commencement of the transition period on November 28, 2009, the CNMI  continued to operate under its current immigration system and laws. However, the Department was authorized to begin establishing its operations in the CNMI during the period leading up to November 28, 2009.

The application of U.S. immigration laws resulted in several notable changes in the CNMI. The Department of Homeland Security became responsible for the inspection and admission of aliens into the CNMI, deportation and removal of aliens from the CNMI, granting of U.S. immigration benefits, and administration of U.S. protection law. 

The Department is responsible for operating air and sea ports of entry and establishing departure controls for flights destined for other parts of the United States. 

The CNRA provides for the continued presence of aliens whose admission was authorized by the CNMI before the transition period.  The law also creates CNMI-only categories during the transition group for two groups who are not otherwise eligible for status under the INA:  nonimmigrant transitional worker status intended for foreign workers needed by CNMI employers amd a CNMI-only investor category.

The CNRA creates a new Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver Program (VWP).  Whereas the old Guam VWP allowed eligible travelers of certain participating countries to visit Guam without a visa for up to 15 days, the new Guam-CNMI VWP will allow an extended authorized period of stay of up to 45 days in Guam or the CNMI.

Read more about the changes for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

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