Time in ‘paradise’ suddenly shorter

Wednesday November 21, 2018 Written by Published in Local

Visa restriction changes impacting American tourists who call the Cook Islands “home” for six months of the year, means they can now find themselves being asked to leave by Immigration after just three months.

Yesterday morning CINews spoke to one “local” US citzen who has called Aitutaki home for the past 11 years, to see how the new restrictions which don’t appear to have been publicly announced, will impact his life “in paradise”.

Marc Pearce says he had dreamed retiring on a palm-fringed piece of paradise such as Aitutaki Lagoon since he was 12.

In 2007, his dream became reality when he traded in his car-hauler job in Denver that had seen him working upwards of 60 hours a week, to now doing, well…not much of anything these days, he says.

“I read and go for walks, exercise every day, but basically not a lot.

“When I retired I thought I’d buy a campervan and travel around America, but I came here, and I liked it.

“After arriving in darkness the first time from Auckland, in the morning I woke up and saw how beautiful Rarotonga was. But when I got to Aitutaki I was taken spearfishing on my first day on the lagoon and was drinking beer with the locals. It was fantastic.”

He’s since made himself at home on the island and feels he is part of the local community, even looking out for his neighbour’s children for the past five years.

With visa travel extensions permitted to US citizens up to five months on top of the normal 31 days, it made it easy for him to live here, most of the year, he said.

However, the 72-year-old has had to completely rethink his future in the Cook Islands after Immigration advised him on a return trip into the country in July, that he could only now extend his visa to a total of three months.

At the time, he was shocked. “I wasn’t even sure what they were telling me was the truth.”

In the past when Pearce had to fly in-and-out to get around six-month visa restrictions, he would head home to the US in the northern hemisphere summer to see his doctor and get his eyes tested. But in their “cold and snowy” winter, he’d jet “down under” to New Zealand or Australia for a quick break and to see a music concert.

Having to exit the Cook Islands every three months he says, will just make things too tough both financially and physically.

“If they do enforce the rule, I’m not going to commute. It’s simply too exhausting spending 26 hours getting here.”

In the meantime he says, he’s not too worried. And has no plans to cancel his return ticket, booked for May next year.

He spends his retirement savings on the islands and adds, “I’m certain I contribute more to the local economy. I don’t grow it, so I have to buy it.

“And I buy raffle tickets and pay to go to Christmas in the Park.”

But admits, “If too many people came here (to stay months from overseas). It wouldn’t be good.”

When he first arrived, he says he thought to himself: “If I got to stay here 10 years, that wouldn’t be bad.”

He says the Cook Islands Immigration policy appears to have been slowly changing since he got here over a decade ago.

“When I first arrived, you had to first stay on Rarotonga for a week before extending the visa, while they locked your passport in a drawer and supposedly checked you out. Now they do it straight away. They even processed the five-month extension in Aitutaki until a few years ago.”

Pearce says the latest changes are confusing as all the information he has searched for on the internet still states a five-month extension can be applied to a 31-day-visa.

CINews contacted the Principal Immigration Officer Kairangi Samuela to clarify the visa changes and confirm if Immigration would reconsider the visa restrictions on a case-by-case basis. The reply will be published in Thursday’s CINews.

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