By Robert A. Emmanuel
The government said it will be making legislative amendments and regulatory changes as it assures nationals of Caricom countries and the Dominican Republic that it will fulfil its campaign promise to waive work permits.
Announced by the administration in January, many individuals from those communities lauded the decision as the fees and red tape involved in acquiring work permits were deemed expensive and cumbersome.
Prior to the government’s announcement, a similar pledge of work permit waivers was made by the opposition United Progressive Party (UPP) during its election campaign.
Following the elections, however, the government’s plans were placed on hold after the Immigration Department raised a number of concerns about how the decision would impact border security and the labour market.
The Cabinet noted that it had received a report from a committee established to look into this matter for which draft legislation is being crafted by the Ministry of Legal Affairs to be brought to Parliament within weeks.
The Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff Lionel Hurst said that the holdup was with the Ministry of Legal Affairs as it was a case of “working with the left hand and the right hand is not so sure what the left hand is doing”.
He also touched on confusion surrounding rules for foreigners applying for citizenship through the recent amnesty.
“Those folks who have satisfied all the qualifications necessary to become citizens of Antigua and Barbuda are still being asked to get their work permits and that is not what the [Cabinet] intended when it announced the amnesty,” he explained.
Cabinet announced in July 2022 that a person who has been granted an amnesty certificate for citizenship does not require a work permit to work in Antigua and Barbuda.
Hurst indicated that the Ministry of Labour was “the lynchpin” in the proceeding of this issue, as he sought to assuage residents of the pledge’s fulfilment.