Minister of State, Labour and Immigration, Sen. Arni Walters??
Government has reiterated that its new immigration policy, which took effect from June 1, 2009, is not a witch-hunt designed to discriminate against CARICOM nationals.
This is according to Minister of State, Labour and Immigration, Senator Arni Walters, who has added to the comments made earlier this week by Prime Minister David Thompson at the beginning of the 30th Meeting of the Conference of CARICOM Heads in Georgetown, Guyana.
???There should not be any fear that if they turn up during an amnesty period that anybody in the Immigration Department is going to hold them and seek to send them back. ??That would go against the purpose of the amnesty,??? he explained.
Speaking to the Barbados Government Information Service (BGIS), the Senator said the Government was not inhumane or uncaring to the needs of this group of persons.
However, he stressed that the island???s small land mass, in conjunction with an increase in the illegal immigrant population, posed severe challenges in the provision of social services, including education, health, housing and employment.
In some cases, the Minister pointed out that these critical services were ???bursting at the seams???, in an effort to provide adequate care for nationals and non-nationals alike.
Through the amnesty, he indicated that, Government was seeking to ???get a handle on these numbers??? in an effort to better rationalise local resources, so those who qualify are able to benefit properly.
???We are hearing stories which we don???t want to???in terms of, for example, slum housing conditions. If you are going to provide facilities for your guests or visitors, they must have the same level of comfort that Barbadians would be entitled to. There should not be any discrimination, either in terms of the social services or employment???that is not the type of regime we would wish to have in place,??? the immigration Minister asserted.
The amnesty offers undocumented CARICOM nationals who entered Barbados prior to December 31, 2005 and have remained undocumented for eight years or more, that is, before January 1, 1998, the opportunity to come into the immigration Department and have their status regularised.
Persons also have to show evidence of employment, proof that they have been living here for the stipulated period proof of any dependents and that they pose no security risk.
Following the qualifying period, ???those CARICOM nationals without lawful permission to remain in the island will be removed.
According to Senator Walters: ???That is a specific group of persons we have identified at the moment, those before 1998??? One would suspect that any person coming in after 1999 would have arrived here on a work permit, as a visitor and had the appropriate extensions or as a CARICOM skilled national. If you are documented, then there is no problem. If you are undocumented and you???ve made a deliberate decision that you will hide away, we will have to take the appropriate action.???
The Labour Minister also maintained that Government???s new immigration policy for undocumented CARICOM nationals was not contrary to the provisions for the free movement of persons as set out under the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME).
He observed that these provisions allowed for certain categories of workers to travel throughout the region, including musicians, university graduates, media workers and artisans, among others.
Senator Walters said these persons would have the requisite national or Caribbean vocational qualifications and the relevant documentation.
However, he pointed out that some persons travelled to Barbados on a particular work permit, yet sought to move into a different area of employment. This, he declared, posed a serious problem for the authorities.
???If an employer applies for a work permit for someone, that individual cannot change employers. That work permit is for a particular type of employment. You cannot come here on a work permit for a carpenter and move from firm A to firm B and call yourself a mason???The moment you move from that employer to become a mason, that work permit is invalid,????? he noted.
Senator Walters reiterated that Barbados remained committed to the free movement of persons under the CSME, in accordance with the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, stressing that Government???s new immigration policy was not intended to ostracise or target any group of CARICOM nationals.
However, he contended, Barbados must still maintain an adequate level of security in the face of rising crime and related border security issues.
???You can???t have a situation where someone gets off an aircraft at the airport or a vessel in the port, and upon serious investigation shows that he does not have a penny to his name, or he has given a fictitious name…
??????There???s no point coming here believing you can circumvent the process and get access to social services, such as housing, when there is a waiting list of some 15 to 20, 000 persons already, or go on welfare when there are other persons who require those services,??? Senator Walters stated.