Biden admin defends Chinese visa exemption as Republicans warn 'loophole' risks national security

Lawmakers warn Chinese nationals visiting Guam pose threat to US military bases

 The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is defending a 2009 decision that allows Chinese nationals to enter U.S. territory without a visa based on a perceived "significant public benefit," while Republicans blast the "loophole" as a way for members of the Chinese Communist Party to "infiltrate" the United States and put national security at risk.

DHS penned a letter to Republican Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Rep. Neal Dunn, R-Fla., in response to their request for information about the influx of Chinese immigration to U.S. territory Guam. Republican lawmakers have warned that influx poses a risk to national security due to the U.S. military bases on the island. 

Guam hosts Naval Base Guam, the Navy’s only submarine base in the western Pacific, as well as Anderson Air Force Base, which is large enough to host U.S. strategic bombers and fighters.


Ernst, Mayorkas and Dunn split image

Sen. Joni Ernst, left, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, center, and Rep. Neal Dunn (Getty Images/File)

The lawmakers have been calling for the Biden administration to close what they call a "visa loophole" that they view as "exacerbating" the issue of illegal immigration to Guam from China.

But DHS is defending the policy that protects the so-called loophole.

"As you note, a foreign citizen generally must obtain a visa to enter the United States, including its territories," wrote Zephranie Buetow, DHS’s assistant secretary for legislative affairs. "However, Public Law 110-229, the Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008 (CNRA), established the Guam-Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) Visa Waiver Program codified at Immigration and Nationality Act § 212(l)."

USS Connecticut Sub Nuclear China

The Seawolf-class USS Connecticut departs Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Washington, on Dec. 15, 2016. (U.S. Navy)

"The CNRA requires DHS to identify countries from which the CNMI receives a ‘significant economic benefit’ from the number of visitors for pleasure within the year preceding enactment," Buetow continued, adding that DHS determined that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) "met this economic threshold in 2009." 

Buetow, citing the policy, said that PRC nationals "may travel" to Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands "without a visa for the purpose of a temporary visit for business or pleasure for up to 14 days." 

Buetow said those PRC nationals "are not authorized for employment."


"Individuals without a visa are not authorized to travel to other parts of the United States, including Guam," Buetow wrote, adding that when they are encountered at CNMI airports, U.S. Customs and Border Protection "will prohibit their onward travel to other U.S. destinations." 

Sen. Joni Ernst

Sen. Joni Ernst (File)

Buetow added, "DHS remains vigilant in its screening and vetting duties, which focus on rooting out exploitation of our immigrant and nonimmigrant visa processes, including by identifying, and where necessary denying entry to, high-risk travelers." 

But Republican lawmakers are blasting the Biden administration for keeping the "loophole" in place. 

"The Biden administration shamefully defends an outdated immigration policy while our national security is on the line," Ernst told Fox News Digital. "Allowing our military base and national secrets in Guam to remain at risk shows just how seriously this president takes the threat of China."

Ernst told Fox News Digital that the Chinese Communist Party "has already proven they will stop at nothing to infiltrate the United States, and that threat is increasing every day as Chinese nationals use a visa loophole to gain access to our critical military installations in Guam."

"We must change this visa policy and put an end to Chinese nationals accessing our homeland for any malign activity," she said. 

And Dunn slammed DHS, saying the agency responded "with willful ignorance of ongoing national security concerns." 


"They confirmed that the current statute allows Chinese nationals to enter the commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands for 14 days visa-free; however, they fail to see why it’s critical that we must implement the requirement of a B-1/B-2 visa to enter the CMNI to successfully deter the Chinese Communist Party’s aggression and transnational repression," Dunn told Fox News Digital. "Law enforcement does an outstanding job capturing those with ill-intent, but look how DHS handles our border crisis." 

He added, "We cannot risk the same thing occurring in the CNMI."

The comments come amid separate concerns about an increase in Chinese nationals arriving at the U.S. border illegally. That number has surged more than 6,300% in recent years, further fueling national security fears that came back into focus last week when a Chinese immigrant was detained at a Marine base in California.

There have been 22,233 encounters of Chinese nationals crossing illegally at the northern and southern border so far in fiscal 2024, which began in October. That means this year is likely to significantly exceed last year's total of 24,125.

That figure was itself a massive increase over the previous two years. There were just 342 apprehensions of Chinese nationals in fiscal 2021 and 1,987 in fiscal 2022, according to Customs and Border Protection data.

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