Welcome Stamp: good idea but not Elixir
Submitted by Richard Petko
These pages have been inundated with comments concerning the Welcome Stamp (WS). I don’t wish to disparage the concept (with all respect to PLT), but the notion that Barbados can earn new amounts of foreign exchange from it or transition to a long-stay tourism/work model as opposed to regular tourism model are completely unrealistic.
The first point I wish to stress is the Welcome Stamp is no more than a 1 year tourist visa. A visa that costs $2000 USD for singles and $3000 USD for families. I mention these amounts because they have become a sore point for most of the people I have met.
As a foreigner living in Barbados I have had contact with over 20 WS families and a handful of WS singles. Why did they come here? The families arrived from Canada/USA/UK because they wanted their children to experience face to face schooling. In September private schools in Barbados offered this. As well there was a sense of adventure the families were looking for; but the over-riding reason was education. The singles I have met came for a year of fun and adventure. They did not know what the future would hold in their countries, so they decided to take the plunge.
We are now 9 months into the welcome stamp experience and I can share my observations of why the program serves a purpose but will never lead to an economic transformation.
Regarding the families, every single one is planning to go home as in-school learning is a reality in Canada, UK and the USA. In fact, I already know of 2 families that have left Barbados for Miami since January 6th when this government decided to shut down face to face schools. They now have their children attending classes in Florida. I know of only one family that is contemplating staying here another year, the other 19 are on their way out. Most of them have enjoyed their time here, but the reality is Covid pushed their decision and without Covid life shall return to normal for them.
When it comes to the singles, adventure brought them here, but after 1 year the adventure streak has passed. I feel this cohort may be one that the Welcome Stamp attracts in the future, but again for only one-year timelines.
Both cohorts tend to have the same negative experiences in regards to the program and living in Barbados.
The cost of the WS Program
It didn’t take long for these people to realize you can come to Barbados and stay for 6 months on a tourist stamp for free; then can extend your tourist visa for 6 months at a cost of $100 – http://www.immigration.gov.bb/pages/Extension.aspx. Needless to say all of them felt ripped-off by the cost of the program. I do not think the program can continue at its present cost because the word is out. Not to mention other jurisdictions also now have similar programs at lower price points. Now that a welcome stamp person knows they can extend a visa for $100 there is no reason to pay for the welcome stamp.
- Other laments that I have heard, which are familiar to us all.
- Cost of food
- Cost of clothing
- Hassles with customs department – One individual broke their iPhone, shipped it back to USA for warranty repair and had to argue for 3 weeks with customs when the phone was returned to not have to pay import duties on it.
- For the singles, 4-5 nightspots. When accustomed to Las Vegas/Miami nightlife most places including Barbados come up short
- Bad roads and lighting. I know of numerous women and men who simply refuse to drive the roads especially at night. This is an issue they don’t face in their home countries.
These may seem trivial but they are not. Not every welcome stamp family is one of millionaires. They are middle class families renting small houses on the south coast and a shopping trip to Price Smart is not a frivolous event for them. For the singles, breaking an iPhone or a iMac and then trying to find a replacement or have it fixed is quite crucial to their personal and business life.
The main selling point of Barbados is no doubt the weather, but warm weather and nice beaches cannot over-come major living issues. We have to remember Barbados is not in competition with just the Caribbean, it is in competition with Texas or Florida or California. People from the northern climates next year post-Covid will look at Tampa Bay or San Diego as a place to live for a year. In those locales they will have world class roads, shopping, food choice and entertainment options aplenty. For someone from Boston they will also not have to worry about visa applications or fees.
The Welcome Stamp is an idea that needs to be reviewed and optimized. If tweaked correctly It can offer a marginal stream of people and revenues to Barbados, but it is no magical potion to bring Barbados hundreds of millions of dollars.