Immigrants by the hundreds take advantage of amnesty offer

An estimated 1,000 applicants have taken advantage of the citizenship amnesty initiative being offered by the Antigua & Barbuda Labour Party administration.

Government’s spokesperson Lionel Hurst said since the programme took effect almost six months ago, people whose statuses were irregular,  and who did not qualify to become citizen because they were not in the country for seven straight years, or were without status for anytime; whether the applicant did not pay or delayed payment for their time, can now qualify for citizenship.

“I was told about 1,000 persons applied,” Hurst said. “We came to office on the 12th of June, (2014), we made a promise and in November we passed the amnesty law. It took effect little over five months ago, in March,” Hurst told OBSERVER media.

On Wednesday, Cabinet further decided that instead of ending the amnesty on September 15, the pardon will continue until December the 31.

Hurst said the resolution in Parliament will likely come next week. He explained that some of the individuals who would have had to go through red tape under the previous system because they had gaps in their immigration status – have now been granted citizenship under the legislation enacted by the new administration.

“Although many had spent as much as 12 and 15 and 17 years in Antigua, when they made the application, they were told that there were gaps and they had to start all over again. We considered that to be really rather unjust, and as a consequence, (we) went to the Parliament, changed the law providing amnesty,” he continued.

Hurst said the new approved citizens were made to pay for the time when they were out of status

On Tuesday, over 300 men and women became citizens under the Immigration and Passport (Amendment) Act 2015 and the chief of staff noted that some $480,000 was collected through the programme.

The chief of staff said he projects another 200 applications by the new deadline, but that number could be more if the prospective new citizens can come up with the funds needed to regularise their status.

“We think a few more will come forward. Certainly, if 1,000 have come forward since March, it strikes us that more will come forward as long as they can raise the funds to cure those gaps.

“I see that with three more months, we will likely see one-third of the number so far. That is my belief,” he added.

Speaking on Prime Minister Gaston Browne’s remarks to the new citizens, Hurst said: “He thanked them for their contribution to development in Antigua & Barbuda and promised them that even more economic opportunities would be forthcoming in 2016 when many of the projects that are now on the drawing board take off.” (With reporting from Amar Spencer)