American Samoa shuts door on tourists

Plans by tourists to celebrate the new year in American Samoa, after spending January 1 in neighbouring Samoa, have been scuttled by the territory’s immigration authorities who refused to grant them access.

Four tourists who went to the Faleolo International Airport on Wednesday and checked into the American Samoa flight were refused boarding, and are yet to be advised by the territory on the reasons behind their barring.

Michael Locke from New Zealand told the Samoa Observer that the immigration officials did not give them an explanation behind American Samoa refusing to allow them into the territory.

Mr Locke said himself and his family purchased tickets and planned to spend New Year's in Samoa and American Samoa, given the fact that Samoa is one day ahead of the international dateline. 

“We provided all the necessary documents that Immigration Office required but to our dismay, we were not given OK Boards to enter,” he said.

“They should have just told us they are not taking on any tourists, but to let us think there is a chance, only to be denied entrance at the last minute is wrong on all levels.” 

Locke said they understand the concerns behind Samoa’s measles epidemic, but making people think they can enter the territory, has thrown a spanner in the works of his family’s new year celebrations. 

“I don’t get why they were not up front with my family and we would gladly enjoy beautiful Samoa,” he added. 

One Australian passport holder, who did not want to be identified, shared the same sentiments. 

He said him and his three friends had spent the new year in Samoa and wanted to see 2020 a day later in American Samoa.

“What an incompetent government. We paid a lawyer to be our contact point and then 30 mins before departure they close the border to non U.S. nationals then they open it again and announced the flights is delayed three hours,” he said.

“About 75 per cent of the waiting tourists are denied entry including us and no reason was given.”

According to airline staff, the three Australian passport holders were denied entry because the territory’s health director had given verbal instructions OK Boards by any foreign passport holder is put on hold until the measles outbreak in American Samoa is officially cleared.

This includes Australia, New Zealand and European passport holders.

The Australian travelers had filed proper OK Board applications last week with their required MMR records, which were verified by the DOH doctor in charge.  However, they were later advised they could not enter the territory.

When contacted,  Health Director Motusa Tuileama Nua confirmed that whereas before these travelers used to apply online for OK Boards to travel to the territory, this process is no longer in force during the measles outbreak.

Motusa said he met yesterday with the American Samoa Visitors Bureau and they have worked out an arrangement for tourists.  

He said the Bureau will be responsible for those travelers for the time they are here and will be responsible for obtaining their necessary clearances.

To date the American Samoa Government has only approved two entry permits since the Public Health declaration was made in response to the measles epidemic in the U.S. territory. 

The visa waiver program enables nationals of certain countries including New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom to travel to American Samoa for tourism or business for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa if certain requirements are met. 

But a recent declaration signed by American Samoa Governor Lolo Matalasi Moliga stated that citizens of 42 countries – who are part of American Samoa's visa waiver program – will still need to contact the American Samoa Attorney General's Office in advance for approval of their OK board of any flights to receive immigration approval. 

Entry permits for American Samoa are a 48 hours process, however, the new review period applies to all countries who require entry permits to enter the American territory and will be extended to 30 days for countries other than Samoa itself. 

The Governor emphasised that although the ban on entry permits was lifted, strict restrictions will remain due to the ongoing threat posed by the Pacific measles epidemic.

“All entry permits from the Independent State of Samoa will require a 15 day review period while those from other countries will be under review for 30 days," he said.

A report by Talanei states that during cabinet meeting Governor Lolo Moliga advised his office has only approved two entry permits since the measles emergency declaration went into effect.

The two permits are for two specialized employees of StarKist Samoa – an accountant and an engineer.

There’s been mounting frustration from residents and airline staff over the inconsistent of entry permit policies which was prompted by the measles outbreak.

According to KHJ News, following the requirements for background checks, obtaining clearances from the Attorney General’s Office and the Department of Health, visitor applicants end up waiting for hours for final clearance from the Governor’s Office, only to find out later that their permit applications are denied.

A resident told KHJ News that it would have been better if the Governor had issued a full ban on the issuing of entry permits, rather than create regulations that they don’t follow. 

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