Of silver linings

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Immigration policy is a tough, thorny issue that is difficult to balance.  On one side is the protectionist stance that hoists the patriotic umbrella to defend any anti-immigrant policy, and on the other side is the more business-like and humanitarian perspective that sees value in a diverse but united human race as well as the human resources that come from immigrants.  Finding a compromise between the two is not easy and as ideologies become more polarized, the willingness and ability of meeting in the middle becomes nearly impossible.  Throw ‘national security’ into the mix and the nearly impossible gets closer and closer to down right impossible.
Recently, we had a look at the possible impacts on our small Caribbean territories, should the hard-line policies of the new President of the United States of America be enforced.  Although we did not get much pass the surface of the issue and the possible ramifications, we hope that there was enough highlighted so as to cause the powers that be to sit up, take notice and enact a plan.  Regardless of whether the deportee tsunami reaches our shores or not, we should have a plan to address the issues should they arise.
So far, our perspective has been more from a disaster preparedness point of view because the first thing that comes to mind is the obvious social and economic impacts that could come from a significant increase in deportees to our shores.  However, we have been awakened to a more optimistic point of view with the help of Dr Marcus Day, one of the founding members of the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Collection and director of the Caribbean Drug & Alcohol Research Institute in Castries, St. Lucia.
Where others (including ourselves) have focused on the potential downsides to the deportees that may arrive on our shores from the USA, Dr Day has been able to muster a perspective that actually sees a positive to the US’ stricter immigration policy.  According to him, “What’s going on in the United States is actually encouraging people to look at home in a different way, and what opportunities exist here in the Caribbean with skillsets.”  Hats off to Dr Day because that is indeed a possible silver lining to the cloud that is setting up to come our way.
For many years, the people of the Caribbean have lamented the “brain drain”.  Our brightest young minds go off to college or university and they never return.  Many of them end up in the United States searching for the American Dream.  The temporary student visa becomes a permanent move and the country is deprived of their valuable skills.  What is our loss is America’s gain.
It is said that almost 70 per cent of students with tertiary education leave the small island states of the Caribbean for the larger, more developed countries around the world.  Without statistics being available to us, we cannot say how many of those choose America.  Further, we cannot estimate how many of those regularize their immigration status.  What we do know is that a lot of them do not.  For one reason or another, they decide to continue to pursue the American Dream from the shadows.
With this in mind, Dr Day has advised Antigua & Barbuda and other countries in the region to recognize the opportunity that is being presented by a tougher US immigration policy and make returning home more appealing.  He posed this observation and follow-up question, “We give tax concessions to foreigners all the time to do enterprises, but are we doing the same for our own nationals?”  It is a very valid point.  How many times do we hear locals and those in the diaspora claiming that foreigners get a better deal than they do?  To be fair, the Government’s retort is always that same – every person or entity, and every submission is treated the same and dealt with on the merits of each case.
Putting that debate aside for now, Dr Day’s optimistic view of the situation is worth evaluating further.  Maybe the time is right for specifically targeting skilled persons and enticing them to return home, before being caught in the immigration net.   After all, no one wants the stigma of being a deportee being attached to his or her name.  As Dr Day points out, many Caribbean residents believe that deported people are criminals.
It is a long shot, because our economy is not the most buoyant and there is not a plethora of well paying jobs but that should not stop us from trying.  Target the skills that we need to help us achieve that economic powerhouse status and see how we can entice persons with sketchy immigration statuses in the USA to look towards the Antiguan Dream.
We have always preached our belief that the next big thing could come from Antigua & Barbuda; all it takes is imagination and opportunity.  We could be looking opportunity in the eye and we shouldn’t blink.  Just imagine a few brilliant local minds returning to our bit of paradise and launching the next Facebook, SnapChat, or Instagram.  It is possible and we should do all that we can to make it happen.
So, to the powers that be, please look at all angles related to this stricter US immigration policy.  Prepare for the worse but also investigate the opportunities that exist.  The silver lining to this cloud could very well end up being our economic gold.

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