If criminals are serious, there is no document that cannot be forged, or at least no document they won’t try to counterfeit.
Now the CARICOM Skilled National Certificate which allows for free movement to live and work in a CARICOM state is the last document we would want to fall prey to fraudsters.
Each CARICOM Skilled Nationals Certificate is different as the national government that issues it; it is a printed document that is then laminated. Like many other government-issued certificates, it bears no special security measures to prevent counterfeiting. The authorities tell us that the most basic document processing abilities and the knowledge to utilise a lamination machine are all it takes to fake a certificate. It’s almost as easy as simply placing a piece of paper in plastic and passing it through the heated rollers of a laminating machine.
The free movement of labour is a broad category that includes professionals like doctors, lawyers, security specialists, and many, many more – even journalists. It does not take much imagination to see the downside of a fake doctor being afforded any type of privileges in any country. A crook with a fake certificate could easily pass themselves off as a security specialist and be granted special privileges, including perhaps firearms ownership.
It may well be an exaggeration for such fraudulent acts to be perpetrated as easily as we describe, but the bottom line is that across the Community, employers and authorities do rely, at least in part, on the CARICOM skilled national certificate as proof of a person being in possession of certain type of skill, and therefore entitled to the rights and privileges that the law affords.
These rights and privileges under the CARICOM Skilled Nationals Act, now nearly 20 years since it was first passed here, have become one of the pillars of the CARICOM Single Market (CSME). And 20 years later, the teething pains associated with free movement of labour continue.
Very recently, our Chief Immigration Officer, Annette Mark, called for the implementation of a standardised Caricom skills certificate, complete with special security features, after her department discovered a Jamaican man with a fake document. “I would love to see some sort of security feature, maybe even a card given to persons who are skilled, because that is the only way we can guarantee it,” said the nation’s immigration chief.
“When you look at the skills certificate throughout the region, they are all different and it really is just a document that can be easily replicated; there are no security features,” she added.
We sense, and share her frustration at the absence of the security features, and the real and present danger of abuse this poses. While we have been debating high-security, micro-chipped vehicle license plates, there is a gaping hole in immigration security across the region.
And this is nothing new. Back in 2008, the Trinidad Express quoted then Caricom Ambassador Irwin Larocque as confirming “some incidents of fraudulent documentation being provided”. The CARICOM Ambassador is now its secretary general, the Community’s chief civil servant.
Within the CARICOM Secretariat senior officials overseeing this plank of the single market have spoken of an “urgent need” to address the risk of bogus certification, not only of the supporting documents for the application for the skills certificate but the precious document itself.
Then, in 2010, our immigration department issued a strong warning to individuals who had intentions of entering Antigua & Barbuda using fraudulent Caricom Skills Nationals Certificates. The department indicated, at the time, that was a system in place to detect the legitimacy of the documents.
Knowing that this remains “an issue that we need to address urgently”, we would have thought that, by now, the successive heads of government and the region’s immigration chiefs would have figured out a solution. And if not 10 or 20 years ago, then it is high time they did now in the light of border security issues globally.
We are troubled by Chief Marks’s forecast: “We expect to see more of this happening, because we have been warned that there are a number of people throughout the region operating with fake skills certificates.”
So we know it is a problem, we have been warned that the problem persists, and our own experts are begging for a solution to arrest the problem. Yet, we are hearing no loud drumbeat leading the security procession toward a solution.
Or is the intention to close a loophole that could damage the integrity of CARICOM free movement as bogus as the bad paper some criminals are trying to pass in order to enjoy it?