CAPITOL HILL Saipan — Legislation that would allow retirees from Japan to live in rented apartments or condominiums in the Northern Mariana Islands under a two-year pilot program is headed to Gov. Benigno R. Fitial for his approval.

Charles P. Reyes Jr. public information officer for Fitial told the Journal “The Fitial administration supports the development of a silver market in the Northern Marianas.  Governor Fitial is willing to pass legislation that would make it easier for foreign retirees particularly from Japan to reside in the CNMI. The governor wants to provide the necessary economic incentives to develop this market. He wants to reduce cumbersome regulations and pave the way for more investment to the CNMI. This is a priority.” He was referring to Senate Bill 15-20 which had gone through a review by the Senate Resources Economic Development and Programs Committee chaired by Sen. Maria T. Pangelinan senator from Saipan.

Pangelinan expressed confidence the measure would be passed into law. She said that it was supported by the Strategic Economic Development Council which is under the office of the governor; and the Saipan Chamber of Commerce.

“The bill is not controversial and I am not aware of any issues against it ” she said. The committee’s version which passed the Senate on April 21 and the House on May 4 simplifies the process for Japanese retirees to settle in the NMI.

Senate Bill 15-20 which is under review by the NMI attorney general’s office before it gets to the governor’s desk would allow retirees from Japan to rent a place to stay for $1 500 a month under a two-year non-renewable entry permit called a “foreign retiree investment certificate.”

The certificate would also allow the retiree to bring along his or her spouse or dependents provided proof of financial ability to support them is provided to the NMI Department of Commerce and Division of Immigration.

The holder of the two-year permit may apply for a five-year foreign retiree certificate and foreign retiree investment visa should he or she decides to stay longer in the NMI following the initial two-year stay.

The five-year certificate and visa require that the retiree invest a minimum of $100 000 in  obtaining property on Saipan; or $75 000 on Tinian and Rota that he or she would be living in for the duration of the term.

Senate Bill 15-20  also addresses eligibility requirements for dependents; clarification on concerns arising from the death of the retiree; and health insurance coverage of the retiree and each dependent.

The bill is also in sync with the Marianas Visitors Authority’s five-year master plan which noted a “growing number of senior Japanese who are looking forward to retirement holidays can find the CNMI as a safe nearby destination with a warm climate and natural beauty.”

MVA also noted that travel by senior Japanese has increased by 38% in recent years.

It stated in its  2006-2010 Strategic Initiatives that the “silver generation” market is “continuously growing in number as more and more people retire and look for destinations to enjoy the twilight of their years.

“For them these islands represent a destination that is easy to visit and has the abundance of nature that is hard to come by in urbanized Japan.”

MVA’s master plan indicates that some retirees from Japan “maintain a certain level of sentimentality with the CNMI’s historical ties to Japan.”

Japan took over the NMI with the outbreak of World War I in 1914 and administered the islands until 1944 when the U.S. seized the islands.

Public Law 11-60 which was enacted in 1999 requires a $150 000 investment for a retiree to acquire property on Saipan and $100 000 on Tinian and Rota.

The committee noted that the amount required by P.L. 11-60 is too high and has become “one major obstacle” in actually bringing in retirees from Japan. The committee noted that the $150 000 investment requirement was among factors why very few foreign retirees have chosen to stay in the NMI.

Sen. Paul A. Manglona senator from Rota introduced the original version of S.B.15-20 on Jan. 16.  MBJ