The following letter was published on Caribbeannet.news and we have reproduced unedited because we find it very relevant to the current debate in the Caribbean concerning free movement of people. Management of our borders continues to challenge our individual countries yet our leaders demonstrate a lack of will to deal with the problem. Perhaps their behaviour which can be compared to a deer caught in the headlights can be explained as not wanting to offend their CARICOM colleagues. We have already heard the mouthings of new Prime Minister Thompson that he is committed to regional integration. We would expect that he would be anti-CSME given his indoctrination at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill.
BU takes the opportunity to yet again ask the Barbados government to take immediate steps to amend the current open door immigration policy which is currently practiced. The most recent example of our lackadaisical immigration system is clearly evident if we examine the Ghanaian Affair – read all about it in an excellent blog over at Barbados Free Press.
Free movement of people vs securing our borders
In keeping with the concept of self-determination, each state has the right to control its own affairs, from the countries with whom it trades to the persons it allows into its state or territorial limits. Barbados is no exception to this “rule”. The question becomes how does Barbados as an independent state balance the free movement of people and securing its borders?
Barbados is a very unique country on many levels. Having lived there for almost three decades of my life, it has yet to reach its full potential; although, it is surely reaching there albeit in a relatively slow manner. It is evident from speaking to Barbadians that they are proud of the country’s achievements, achievements due to a strong democratic political system as well as a stable economy. These, to my understanding, are the main factors that continue to buttress trade, tourism, and education as well as a general respect for the law. But it seems that all of this is now under threat or has been for quite a while.
Now with the advent of CARICOM, many Barbadians continue to fear an erosion of their stable society, one that they have worked very hard to create. For one, they are concerned, in fact afraid, about an increased level of crime (speaking from an observational perspective) in Barbados and especially in nearby islands, job security and immigration. All of those areas have equal footing on the scale of concern for Barbadians, although, some Barbadians may think that this is due to Barbados’ “open door” policy. By “open door” policy I mean the general genuine desire for Barbadians wanting to do business with everybody.
However, the closer Barbados moves to reaching its full potential, the more stringent it must be in balancing the free movement of people against securing its borders. Here are some likely suggestions: there first needs to be comprehensive citizenship and immigration reform. One should not be done without the other. It is far too easy for a person married to a Barbadian citizen to acquire Barbadian citizenship (as you are deemed to have acquired at marriage, Barbadian citizen) and by extension a Barbados passport, an unfortunate defect in Barbados’ constitution. Could you imagine the possibilities of an undesired national holding a legal and valid Barbadian passport? Could you imagine the impact that will have on Barbadian citizens travelling abroad to countries who exempt Barbadians from their visa requirements?
Just as important as the Barbados passport, there should be improved and secured biometric identification cards. If it is a later wish for Barbados’ government to allow only citizens to travel with identification cards within CARICOM or extra-regionally then at least the Barbadian citizen will be able to prove through possession of this type of document that he / she is a citizen and exempt from certain visa requirements. This identification card should at least contain details of the present identification card, the social security number, a fingerprint and other biometric identifiers as well as whether the person is authorised or not to work in Barbados. Non-nationals would be obliged to use the passports of their country as well as whatever biometric visas issued by the Barbadian authority. This can help to prevent identify fraud in Barbados or fraud by non-nationals using false documents. Spanish and Polish identification cards are near examples to my suggestion.
Imposition of biometric visas in Barbados and it High Commissions and Embassies abroad should become the norm (if such is not the case already). Has anyone seen an application for a Barbados visa, Form J? This form and any other visa forms could be seen as very inadequate and should be changed to require much more background information from individuals requiring visas to Barbados. One must never compromise quality with quantity, unless this is Barbados’ aim. What’s the sense of having many categories of immigrants or non-immigrants and none are of any economic value to the Barbadian society and without knowing the background of the visa applicant. US-style finger printing and facial recognition should be introduced for citizens and nationals of high-risk countries in the Caribbean and around the world for entry into Barbados. This would possibly prevent the so-called hassle that citizens of certain CARICOM country experience when entering Barbados (if Barbados does not want to impose visa restrictions on them).
If you are a bona fide visitor then you will have nothing to hide. Such finger printing and facial recognition should also be used for non-Barbadian citizens and nationals leaving the country. This will help immigration authorities identify over-stayers more effectively rather than having immigration officers stamping and filling out forms at Barbados’ ports (an awful practice as any traveler, especially natural born citizens, will be able to attest if entering Barbados by air in peak summer). It will also give the statistical department an accurate, real-time figure of who is in Barbados at any given time (provided the system is effectively managed).
Restrictions should be imposed on visitors who enter Barbados as visitors and then want switch to another category, meaning it would be mandatory for a person wanting to work in Barbados to secure a work visa before entering the country. In addition, people coming to work and wanting to bring their family should also be required to have at least for the first year of their stay in the country, a certain amount of funds to support themselves. They should also be made to have comprehensive health insurance as well as funds and insurance for their dependents.
Furthermore, there should be a nationwide database where it should be mandatory for Barbadian employers looking to hire an individual other than a Barbadian citizen to first place the advertisement with the database. Only then, on the agreement with the managers of that database and perhaps together with the Unemployment Bureau, will the employer be issued with a secured certificate of some sort to prove to the immigration that there is a genuine need to hire from abroad. Meaningful fines should be imposed on employers who break the immigration laws.
These suggestions are by no means limited but they are a start to securing Barbados’ borders and territorial limits in the face of free movement of persons. This article should not in anyway be viewed as a way of excluding or restricting genuine visitors wishing to enter or remain in Barbados. The purpose is to give the readers something to ponder about in the face of mass migration. Barbados’ biggest trading partner in the north, the United States has already imposed and are about to impose many of the types of programs mentioned in this article. The Bahamas too have already commenced issuing much more secured documents, including the new e-passports which go one step further than the ordinary machine readable passport for its citizens and other secured documents for non-nationals with the right to remain there.
Considering Barbados’ position in the Caribbean and its attractiveness as a destination to live and work, it would be quite unwise for the new government or any future government not to adequately secure its borders in the face of free movement of persons.
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