By Orville Williams
The government has acknowledged that it could be forced to extend the ongoing immigration amnesty period – or install more immigration officers – if it is to offer the opportunity to all affected residents.
Foreign Affairs Minister, EP Chet Greene, made that revelation in Parliament yesterday, following several reports that the appointment section of the process has already reached capacity just two weeks in.
“Based on the uptake of the amnesty offer, I anticipate that we will have to look seriously at an extension of the period. Already, we’re seeing [that] the Immigration Department allows for walk-in applicants and for appointments, [but] they’ve exhausted every appointment hour between now and the end of April.
“So, if we agree that we’re going to go back to the original intention of extending amnesty to all the persons affected, it means that – with the period remaining already booked out – we will have to look seriously and critically at either increasing the number of officers at the Immigration Department, extending the period for amnesty, or a combination of [both],” Greene declared.
The amnesty is currently scheduled to run from March 1 to April 30 and, according to the government, the Immigration Department has been processing an average of 80 persons per day.
There were long lines at the Immigration Department yesterday, where some people told Observer they had been waiting for more than four hours just to submit an application form – the first step in the process.
A host of Jamaicans, Guyanese, Dominicans and people from the Dominican Republic were among those attempting to get their status regularised, and tempers became frayed as the sun beat down, with many expressing frustration with the lengthy wait.
Due to the sheer number of prospective applicants, the staff eventually took names and told people to return on Wednesday afternoon to try again.
The Immigration Department is also reminding amnesty applicants to ensure they have the required documents in hand, including a completed application form, a passport, and a recent photo.
Just last week, Chief of Staff in the Office of the Prime Minister, Lionel Hurst, said there were no plans to extend the amnesty period despite the influx of persons, but that stance has obviously changed since.
Prior to the start of the amnesty, the government projected that at least 2,000 persons could look to take advantage of the opportunity.
Amnesty hours are from 2pm to 8pm Mondays to Fridays, with walk-in applicants advised to present themselves by 1pm on the day they wish to submit their applications for the process of registering their names. This is being done on a first-come, first-served basis.
Persons living in Antigua and Barbuda for a minimum of four years, but less than seven years, may apply for residency permit. Those residing in the country for more than seven years may apply for citizenship.
In both cases, applicants must not have been absent from the country for more than six months at a time.
As the amnesty processing continues, the Immigration Department continues to provide regular services to members of the public seeking extension, among other things.