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From Tourists to Asylees

Russian Citizens in Guam

By Dr. Christopher Rasmussen, Assistant Professor of History, University of Guam.


When the US Department of Homeland Security decided to admit Russian visitors to Guam without a visa in 2012, it seemed to be a happy convergence of US foreign policy and the desires of local political and tourist industry leaders. The policy added to the Obama administration’s “Russia reset” and paroled relatively free-spending Russian tourists for 45-day visits. Two years later, however, events in Russia led to a sharp decline of overseas travel and a rise in political repression. As one of the few places Russian citizens could travel without a visa, Guam became a lifeline to hundreds of Russian asylum seekers. The plight of these migrants reveals the cruelty of federal immigration policies, the extent to which Guam is subject to the vagaries of US foreign policy, and how Guam has welcomed these new arrivals and how they have adapted.