US Chamber of Commerce official: Road to recovery may be long

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AN official from the United States Chamber of Commerce predicts an uphill climb for the travel and tourism industry.

Jon Baselice, U.S. Chamber of Commerce executive director of immigration policy, said that travel and tourism will be a very difficult road for a lot of areas of the country, including U.S. territories.

Jon Baselice

His economic prognosis followed a virtual meeting last week with the Saipan Chamber of Commerce and the Guam Chamber of Commerce where  travel, tourism, economic outlook, and the road to recovery were discussed.

Although he could not explicitly advise which market is more feasible to the Marianas at this time, Baselice noted the importance of turning to the U.S. Department of State travel warnings for more insight.

Baselice explained the different levels of travel restrictions, highlighting that travel warnings are largely on a country-by-country basis and tend to fluctuate over time in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The State Department is working together with agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on these advisories that were issued a couple of weeks ago.

These guides, Baselice said, are not the best, but they  provide some relief for some companies.

He said although some travel restrictions in certain areas are easing up, the problem is that travelers, both domestic and international, are not ready to take the plunge and travel.

“It's one of those things where it's just going to take time for the travel industry to come back,” he said.

Looking at the Asian markets of the CNMI and Guam, Baselice said  U.S. embassies and consulates are starting to reopen routine visa processing, some of which provide e-visas and immediate relative visas.

He said travel and tourism are inextricably linked with travel warnings from the State Department, so as travel warnings go down in a country, routine visa processing in that country will pick up.

Baselice said he intends to hear more from both the Guam and Saipan chambers  how current immigration issues affect them, what aspects they can work with, what they would like to be changed, and what insights they may have on the matter.

“I looked at this and I said this was a missed opportunity to do something right in 2018 when you really could have made the situation better, instead of trying to do the reforms in the manner that they were passed,” Baselice said.

He noted that while U.S. states can promote domestic tourism, it is difficult for the Marianas to do the same, seeing that they are remote islands.


Baselice said the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has sued the Trump administration for issuing a new proclamation that bans the entry of H1B, H2B, L1, and J1 non-immigrants to the U.S.

“The chamber and many of its members were very upset by this, so much so that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, TechNet, the National Retail Federation, and my favorite J1 sponsoring program out of San Francisco, Intracks, sued the administration over this,” he added.

Baselice said the U.S. chamber is confident that it will get an injunction.

He also believes that this issue will go away if Democratic presidential candidate Joseph Biden wins the presidential election in November.

“I don't believe this is a lawful use of the [Immigration and Nationality Act]…because it's one thing to have travel restrictions on countries that are based upon national security threats,” Baselice said. “It's another thing to use that same type of authority that's based on maintaining security of the United States and have your policy justification being completely economic. So either  the statutes mean something, or they don't, and I am banking on them to mean something. And if they do mean something, then I'm confident that our arguments should at least win the day.”

The lawsuit was filed toward the end of July of this year and a brief was filed in the beginning of August.

A response from the administration came two weeks ago, and a response from the U.S. chamber was due last week.

A hearing has been scheduled for Sept. 11.

Domino effect

In light of the recent announcement by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services that it will no longer furlough over 13,000 employees, Baselice said USCIS is now looking elsewhere to cut costs, mainly by “descoping their contractors and scaling back on operations.”

He said this is going to lead to lagging processing times, longer waits between the filing and the actual adjudication of a petition or application.

“But it could have been a whole lot worse,” he said, adding that the alternative would have been a complete halt of USCIS operations.

Baselice said the agency has enough funding to maintain regular operations through mid-November of this year, but still needs additional funding. 

With people not wanting to migrate anymore and places shutting down in light of the global pandemic, there is now an ever-growing backlog with USCIS processing times, he said.

He added that the U.S. House of Representatives has passed a USCIS funding bill, which is still pending in the U.S. Senate.

“I'm confident that necessity will bring reasonable minds together to fix this issue so USCIS can stay funded through the rest of fiscal year 2021,” Baselice said.

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