Public debate wages on nationality of immigration officers

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Should the staff of this country’s Immigration Department be exclusively of Antiguan and Barbudan nationality? And if it is required that one be a citizen, how long should one have obtained such citizenship and be residing in the state?
This conversation arose after a letter dated July 31, 2017, was leaked to OBSERVER media in which Senator Colin L James wrote to Chief Immigration Officer, Annette Mark, “recommending Ms. Shernett Reid, a resident of Lightfoot, for an available position as an Immigration Officer within your department.”
The letter continued: “In this regard, I am hereby requesting a three months (sic) extension for Ms Reid. Her time will expire on 12th August, 2017. Ms Reid is the holder of a Jamaican Passport.”
The letter did not include Reid’s qualifications.
When OBSERVER media contacted the Chief Immigration Officer on August 14, she said that the request for the Jamaican visitor to be considered for a position as an Immigration Officer was a mistake.
Noting that the matter was internal and should not have been made public, the Vincentian born Mark, told OBSERVER media that the contents of the first letter had been retracted and were replaced by another request solely for an extension of the visitor’s stay in Antigua & Barbuda.
Although Mark said the first letter sent by Senator James was ‘clearly a mistake,’ and the department “operated within the ambits of the law and did an assessment,” she did not say whether or not the extension of stay was granted.
When contacted, Senator James said he had nothing to add to the comments of the immigration chief.
When the issue was made public, there were a slew of comments on social media calling for James to resign from his post as Senator. Contributors were appalled that a member of the country’s legislature – the highest law making body in the land, and one sworn to uphold the constitution – could recommend that a visitor to the country, and one with no legal status in terms of residency, be employed in one of the most important national security departments.
According to information on its website, the Antigua and Barbuda Immigration Department is one of the twin island state’s principal security units under the Ministry of National Security and Labour.
The information states: “The Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda previously controlled the functions and management of the Immigration Department, and this functional area of the Royal Police Force was detached in November 1998.
“An amendment to the Immigration and Passport Act, CAP 208 in 1999 officially severed the Immigration Function from the Police. The amendment created a civilian Immigration Department, which had an initial focus on the transition from policing to a more Tourism friendly product. Another reason for the change was that the political directorate believed that border policing and public policing ought to be separate and apart; border security is about protecting and monitoring rather than coercion and policing.”
Consequently, the new Immigration Department managed passengers’ arrivals and departures, extension of permits, immigration offenders and the detection of potential deportees while the prosecution and the detention of illegal immigrant persons remained the responsibility of the police. However, there was a major transformation in 2009 in which the Immigration Department began prosecuting offenders and detaining them in its facilities and only exceptional circumstances were referred to the the Police.
Currently, the Antigua and Barbuda Immigration System has three areas of operation: (1) the Resident Unit; (2) inspections and border; (3) enforcement of the country’s immigration laws.
The passport and visa sections of the Immigration and Passport Act (Cap 208) has always been under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and was never the duty of the Police Force. This remains so today, although there are discussions to integrate these functions under the mandate of the Immigration Department.
The current mandate of the Immigration Department includes building an integrated border management system, which is universally accepted. This requires the merging of two objectives of effective and efficient border management, i.e., the delicate attempt to merge the border security concerns with trade facilitation and hassle-free travel.

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