The Northern Mariana Islands’ administration will submit proposals to the legislature that would grant permanent residency status to foreigners for a fee of at least $200 000 and allow fee simple ownership of condominium units by people of non-NMI-descent.

Gov. Benigno R. Fitial said the move is meant to help generate revenues for the cash-strapped local government. According to Antonio S. Muna the governor’s special assistant for management and budget; the government’s accumulated deficit has gone to “well over $150 million.” Fitial signed a $193.5 million budget on Sept. 18. It was the first budget law signed in four years and the lowest in recent years. 

“We are looking into re-enacting the Permanent Residency Act to bring in new investors and allow them to become residents. We are looking at $200 000 per resident. This is not final. But we are already thinking along that line ” Fitial said during a media briefing held in his conference room on Sept. 29.

A law granting permanent residency status to foreigners in the NMI took effect on April 1 1977 when the islands along with other former Japanese possessions in Micronesia were still United Nations Trust Territories administered by the U.S. District Law 5-11 as the statute was called was repealed in 1984. It granted permanent residency status to foreigners — mostly guest workers who had been in the NMI five years before the statute took effect.

Fitial said his administration’s move to re-enact the permanent residency law does not need concurrence from the federal government as the NMI by virtue of the Covenant that established it in political union with the U.S. in 1978 has autonomy in effecting its own immigration laws.

Another revenue-generating measure is also being worked out by the administration according to Fitial. He said the Strategic Economic Development Council composed of representatives from the private and public sectors is reviewing the NMI’s statutes allowing foreigners to obtain apartment and condominium units.

According to Mathew Gregory attorney general of the NMI there are a lot of concerns from investors about Public Law 15-20 which was enacted on June 27; and Public Law 9-6 which was enacted on July 8 1994. These laws stemmed from the Uniform Condominium Act — P. L. 3-86 — took effect on Dec. 14 1983 and defined short-term interests in a condominium unit that persons of non-NMI descent may hold.

 “There are a lot of investors’ concerns. There is no effort in these statutes to address concerns about actual access to the condominium unit ” Gregory said.

According to Fitial his administration aims to allow foreigners to own fee simple condominium units.

A fee simple title allows holders absolute ownership and may pass it down to heirs after their death.

An apparent stumbling block however is Article 12 of the NMI Constitution which as amended to its present form only allows foreigners leaseholds of up to 55 years.

Abolishing Article 12 would require a legislative initiative which would put the question on the ballot in an electoral exercise. MBJ