Foreign Nationals Likely Economic Refugees

Migrants told CQA Director Ike Peredo that they're on the island to find work. Local Facebook comments theorize that they're spies. Other members of the community say they're here for a better life.

The map of China and the flag of China infused
The map of China and the flag of China infused (Devin Eligio)

Immigration of Chinese migrants mirror events in late 90s.

With the influx of Chinese foreign nationals sailing to Guam from the CNMI and unlawfully entering the island, theories and speculations are going around as to why these migrants are coming in.

9 Chinese foreign nationals have been arrested to date. This influx of migrants unlawfully entering the island is an ongoing issue for Guam’s Customs and Quarantine Agency.

A map showing where the recent Chinese migrants are known to be dropped off.
A map showing where the recent Chinese migrants disembark (Devin Eligio)

Public opinion

PNC went out into the community and asked the people why they think these foreign nationals are coming into Guam.

“It could be for economic reasons,” one local, Mario, said. “It could also be for security reasons.”

Another local, Mary, thinks they’re escaping from China for a better living.

“Because of a lot of the global turmoil, especially with China, that can be people trying to get out of there,” she said.

Mary’s theory aligns with thoughts shared by two UOG students we talked to.

“Maybe they’re suffering back home and they need to change their life here,” said Brian Refalo. Refalo’s study partner, Sina Namio, added on saying, “I think they just want a better lifestyle.”

Chinese migrants likely economic refugees

Their theories might not be far from the truth.

We spoke to Dr. Ron McNinch, a tenure professor of Public Administration at UOG. He told us that these migrations might be a result of one of three things:

  1. The U.S. has almost totally abandoned its Immigration Policies.
  2. Migrants are economic refugees looking for work with better pay than what China offered.
  3. Migration to Guam is an “open ticket” to getting U.S. citizenship.
Dr. Ron McNinch, political analyst and UOG professor

Dr. McNinch shared that the U.S. Coast Guard relaxed its policing of the waters over the years after a similar phenomenon of Chinese migrations in the late 90s.

He also shared that, as migrants by the hundreds poured into the island back then, policing the waters and ports was strictly enforced.

Guam’s history with Chinese migrants

In June of 1999, former Governor Carl Gutierrez told world leaders that the migrations had an impact on the island’s resources.

He said it was a “gold mine” for those in Asia seeking asylum and that it was causing “many problems.”

Former Governor Carl Gutierrez on the phone in his office
Former Governor Carl Gutierrez (Guampedia)

During that time, Gutierrez shared that over 600 Chinese immigrants were on the island seeking U.S. Citizenship.

Congressional Records revealed that over 2,000 Chinese migrants are estimated to have avoided law enforcement in the 90s.

Further action

As far as today’s local law enforcement goes, arrested migrants face up to 1 year in prison.

The Attorney General told PNC that three of migrants currently walk free on bail. They also check in with the AG’s office three times a week.

Jian Feng Li, one of the Chinese migrants released on bail.

Additionally, we asked the public what should be done about today’s foreign nationals coming to Guam.

Some people emphasized stricter law enforcement.

“There does need to be some kind of process for it,” Mary said.

The more compassionate suggested accommodation.

“[We should] look through how we can help these people to have opportunities and be able to come properly,” Britney, another UOG student, expressed.


Investigations conducted by the local multi-agency task force and federal partners are still ongoing.

Reach reporter Devin Eligio: