Frustration grows at American Samoa border
More than ten people, including church Ministers, have reported being denied entry to American Samoa over the past week despite saying they had the required entry permits and immunisation records.
Reverend Lole Luamanuvae told the Samoa Observer at the Faleolo International Airport on Friday that he had a certified immunisation clearance from the Ministry of Health but was nonetheless asked to return to Samoa.
Restrictions on entry permits and visa waiver countries were imposed under the American Samoa Government's (A.S.G.) public health emergency, declared in response to the measles outbrea.
The declaration has now been extended until next month.
“I checked in and provided my 30 entry permit, immunisation clearance, however when I arrived in American Samoa, I was told that I had to return back," he said.
"The woman I was dealing with did not seem to have a logical explanation.
"She said the signature on my clearance did not match the Health Official’s signature that’s required for entrance."
He further stated there was no room for engaging in debate with the immigration official as it was evident he wasn’t able to leave the terminal.
“What I don’t get is that their policies keep on changing,” he said.
Rev. Luamanuvae was accompanied by more than nine family members who were all asked to return.
"And I was put back on the next flight and came back home. Upon arriving I saw two other Church Ministers that went through the same predicament.”
Samoa Observer reached out to Am. Samoa's Director of Health, Motusa Tuileama Nua for comment.
He did not respond as of press time.
Ben Ah Chong, a frequent flyer told the Samoa Observer hat he did not have any problems gaining entry because he had a locally-approved immunisation record and residency.
"I was on the same flight with Reverend Luamanuvae and it appeared that those of us that have permanent residence did not have a problem, but anyone that does not have A.S.G. (American Samoa Government) identification were turned away, they came up with all the excuses to deny the entrance," said Mr. Ah Chong.
"[They] may as well just close their borders to foreigner visitors."
The same issue was cited by local media in American Samoa, who have reported the restrictions are causing unexpected distress among travellers and their sponsors and are affecting some local businesses.
The main complaint is that the rules keep changing and are not uniformly applied, according to a report carried by the talainews outlet.
The ourlet spoke to some of the affected companies about the impact of the restrictions on their operations.
Lisa Gebauer, the Human Resources Director for BlueSky, said the company had advised its incoming technical contractors, auditors and trainers about the possibility of encountering difficulties at the border.
She said that while BlueSky is supportive and understands the Government’s reasons for implementing the requirements but she did express frustration at their inconsistent application.
“This often adds more time to an already lengthy process needed to get a single entry permit due to the back and forth between departments,” she told Talaneinews.
One contractor for BlueSky from New Zealand was unable to secure his “Ok to Board” permit, which had previously been available to be processed online.
There were no updates on the immigration website to advise the traveler that the “Ok to Board” process had changed to require passengers to have immunisation documentation presented in person.
The New Zealander’s travel to American Samoa and contract work were postponed until BlueSky was able to get all of the local authorising signatures required.
American Samoa’s A.N.Z. Country Manager, Tasi Scanlon, said some of their commercial customers, who are residents of Samoa but own businesses in Pago Pago, have also faced inconvenience:
“Some were turned away at the airport because they were just a few days short of the 14 day prior-to-arrival immunisation requirement, while others who had been issued permits prior to the measles outbreak, and had paid a lot of money for [them...] were refused entry."
There have e been reports of American citizens traveling from Samoa en route to Hawaii being denied entry to the American territory in addition to tourists from Canada and the European Union who had already obtained clearances being turned away.